On the Inherent Liminality of Biomorphic Art

Curvilinear rather than rectilinear, decorative rather than structural and romantic rather than classical in its exaltation of mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational.

Alfred H. Barr[i]

This is an excerpt from the fourth section of my written thesis document,

"Synesthesia & Siphonophorae: a reflection on the liminal between abstraction and translation"

That definition by MoMA curator Alfred Barr was recorded in the catalog for Cubism and Abstract Art, an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art (March 2–April 19, 1936) organized by Barr. Barr is describing the aspects of biomorphic abstraction, a term he coined to explain to viewers of the exhibition the art showcased within that while still visually abstracted, had the presence or impression of living organisms. Biomorphic shapes, as Barr describes them, exist in the threshold between the recognizable and the alien. They possess inherent incongruity. They are not wholly geometric, but also nonrepresentational. The viewer may have never seen them before, but resonate with their uncanny, primordial familiarity.[I]

Biomorphic art is a mutable concept, or the pictural manifestation of mutable energy, one that feels primal and exists somewhere between intrinsic and extrinsic.

That tension between reason and instinct, technique and automatism was integral in creating my thesis work.

Biomorphic art, in its flux state of intention and spontaneity, existed long before I drew those first rough sketches of what would become my final thesis. In many ways, biomorphic abstraction was a reaction against rationality and the cold sparsity and formalism of early Modernist art, but it has evolved throughout the decades.

Biomorphism in art illustrates that one does not need to choose between reason and instinct, rather the “rational, analytical side” of myself in my artistic practice can embrace “the uncanny, natural beauty of what Alfred H. Barr called the “mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational” biomorphic world.”[ii]

One can exist in that liminality.

I find it interesting that I found a path to an existing concept that I was not familiar with prior to researching my thesis.

Synaesthetic synchronicity.


Siphonophorae, close shot, 2021



[i] “The Role of Biomorphic Shapes in Abstract Art.” IdeelArt.com, IdeelArt Magazine, 2016, www.ideelart.com/magazine/biomorphism. [ii] “The Role of Biomorphic Shapes in Abstract Art.” [i] 1936 MoMA Abstraction and Cubism exhibition curated by Barr. Lowry, Glenn. “ABSTRACTION IN 1936: BARR’S DIAGRAMS.” Museum of Modern Art, 2018. PDF.