From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Biomorphism is an art movement that began in the 20th century. It patterns 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 catalogue of his 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art. Barr borrowed Grigson's term without acknowledgement and noted that "The shape of the square confronts the silhouette of the amoeba."
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. The three leading figures of the Art Nouveau movement were influenced by biomorphism. Even in the expressionist designs of Hermann Finsterlin, Rudolf Steiner, and Erich Mendelsohn, we find the same influence.
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 more deserted and ridden of war, which has been seen as a psychological portrait of wartime Europe.
Surrealism elevated this magic and the transformational process of metamorphosis and hybridization. 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.
In industrial design and architecture
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.
The best-known proponents today are legendary rock album artists Roger and Martyn Dean, Italian industrial designer Luigi Colani, and architects Eugene Tsui, Kendrick Kellog, Antti Lovag, and Peter Vetsch. This style of architecture was briefly discussed by Marshall Savage in the original Millenium Project.
Robert Sommer in The Personality of Vegetables: Botanical Metaphors for Human Characteristics (1988) explored the use and meaning of plant terms in our language as he focuses on botanomorphism, or the tendency to describe human characteristics through fruit and vegetable metaphors. --Diane Relf, HUMAN ISSUES IN HORTICULTURE, HortTechnology April/June 1992]
- "Organic design vocabularies--from the ecstasies of baroque ornament to mid-twentieth-century biomorphism--have always gestured toward the erotic, suggesting the curves and movements of the human body. In contemporary design, eroticism is present yet kept at a distance, handled with rubber gloves. The fulfillment of desire and the satisfaction of touch are blunted by protective layers of material. Clothed in latex, vinyl, rubber, or resin, sensual forms are rendered clinical. When love and fear are necessary bedfellows, the plush, dimly lit boudoir gives way to the bright, wipeable surfaces of the laboratory and lavatory." Ellen Lupton