Biomorphism

Marc Newson

Biomorphism is an art movement that began in the 20th century. It models artistic design elements on naturally occurring patterns or shapes reminiscent of nature.

Taken to its extreme it attempts to force naturally occurring shapes onto functional devices, often with mixed results.

The term was coined in 1935 by the British writer Geoffrey Grigson and subsequently used by Alfred H. Barr in the context of his 1936 exhibition ‘Cubism and Abstract Art.’ Biomorphist art focuses on the power of natural life and uses organic shapes, with shapeless and vaguely spherical hints of the forms of biology. Biomorphism has connections with Surrealism and Art Nouveau. Matisse’s seminal painting ‘Le bonheur de vivre’ (‘The joy of Life’), from 1905 can be cited as an important precedent. The Tate Gallery’s online glossary article on biomorphic form specifies that while these forms are abstract, they ‘refer to, or evoke, living forms…’ The article goes on to list Joan Miró, Jean Arp, Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepworth as examples of artists whose work epitomizes the use of biomorphic form.

The paintings of Yves Tanguy and Roberto Matta are also often cited as exemplifying the use of biomorphic form. During and after World War II, Yves Tanguy’s landscapes became emptier, which has been seen as a psychological portrait of wartime Europe. The use of metamorphosis through Picasso influenced Surrealism in the 1920s, and it appeared both as subject matter and as procedure in the figurative paintings of Leonora Carrington and in the more abstract, automatic works of André Masson.

Desmond Morris is a biomorphic painter of note and Marc Newson a designer of note. The Sagrada Família church by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona contains many features inspired by nature, such as branching columns intended to reflect trees. Biomorphism is also seen in modern industrial design, such as the work of Alvar Aalto; and Isamu Noguchi, whose Noguchi table is considered an icon of industrial design. Presently, the effect of the influence of nature is less obvious: instead of designed objects looking exactly like the natural form, they use only slight characteristics to remind us of nature.

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