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Biomorphic branching columns in Gaudí's monumental but still incomplete Sagrada Família church are modelled on trees

Biomorphism models artistic design elements on naturally occurring patterns or shapes reminiscent of nature and living organisms. Taken to its extreme it attempts to force naturally occurring shapes onto functional devices.[1] In his search for architectural reform the French architecte Viollet le Duc is the first to express this idea clearly : Like a botanist, Viollet le Duc analyzes details of nature in his books, subsequently making them undergo metamorphoses.[2]


Within the context of modern art, the term was coined by the British writer Geoffrey Grigson in 1935[3] and subsequently used by Alfred H. Barr in the context of his 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art.[4] 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 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 epitomises the use of biomorphic form.[5]

In July 2015 a Facebook Group was set up by British artist Andrew Charles. The group morphed into a movement over the following year and was described in a Manifesto by Charles on 16 July 2016, breaking down the Sculptural Genrea into specific patterns of creation forming no less than 8 necessary protocols for a work to conform to the term biomorphism.

In painting[edit]

The paintings of Yves Tanguy and Roberto Matta are also often cited as exemplifying the use of biomorphic form.[6] During and after World War II, Yves Tanguy's landscapes became emptier, which has been seen as a psychological portrait of wartime Europe.[7]

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.[8]

American artist Phoebe Adams is known for her biomorphic paintings and sculptures,[9][10] which are in many museum collections. Desmond Morris, author of "The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal", is a biomorphic painter whose works are in museum collections, including the National Portrait Gallery in London.[11]

American artists Andrew Topolski, Michael Zansky, Suzanne Anker, Frank Gillette, Michael Rees, and Bradley Rubenstein participated in exhibitions featuring biomorphic and biospheric paintings and digital art at Universal Concepts Unlimited (2000–2006). Michael Zansky's series, "Giants and Dwarves," spanned 5,000 square feet of carved, burned, and painted wooden panels with biomorphic forms.[12][13]

In architecture[edit]

TWA Flight Center 2015.7

The Sagrada Família church by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona contains many features inspired by nature, such as branching columns intended to reflect trees.[14]

Other well known examples of biomorphism in architecture can be found in the Lotus Temple in New Delhi, by Fariborz Sahba, based on a lotus flower,[15] and the TWA Flight Center building in New York City, by Eero Saarinen, inspired by the form of a bird’s wing.[16]

One of the leading contemporary architects that uses biomorphism in his work is Basil Al Bayati, a leading proponent of the school of Metaphoric architecture whose designs have been inspired by trees and plants, snails, whales and insects such as the Palm Mosque at the King Saud University in Riyadh, or the Al-Nakhlah Palm Telecommunications Tower, which are based upon the form of a palm tree,[17] or the Oriental Village by the Sea, in the Dominican Republic that is based upon the segmented body of a dragonfly.

In industrial design[edit]

Spacelander Bicycle designed by Benjamin G. Bowden in 1946; Manufactured 1960. Brooklyn Museum

Biomorphism is also seen in modern industrial design, such as the work of Alvar Aalto,[18] and Isamu Noguchi, whose Noguchi table is considered an icon of industrial design.[19] 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.

Victor Papanek (1923–1999) was one of the first American industrial designers to use biomorphic analysis in his design assignments. He reached international prominence while at Purdue University 1964–1970. Student work and his work is illustrated in his book Design for the Real World, published in 1970, which challenges the industrial design establishment to design for the handicapped and disadvantaged throughout the world. First published in 1970 by Bonnier in Swedish, it was published in English in 1971 by Pantheon and eventually translated and published in 23 languages. It is perhaps the most widely read book on design.

Gaetano Pesce is an Italian designer who creates brightly colored acrylic furniture in biomorphic and human shapes.[20][21][22]

Marc Newson is an Australian biomorphic designer who created a Charlotte chair (1987) and three-legged carbon-fibre Black Hole table (1988).[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Modern Architectural Forms of the Mid Century (Part 2)". 14 July 2015.
  2. ^ Mazaraky, Sylvie (2006). L'art nouveau : Passerelle entre les siècles et les arts (in French). Bruxelles: Racine Lanno. ISBN 9782873864132.
  3. ^ Grigson, Geoffrey (1935). The Arts Today. London: Bodley Head. pp. 71–109. Grigson's coinage was first identified and discussed in Jennifer Mundy, Biomorphism, PhD dissertation, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London 1986, and then in subsequent articles by the same author.
  4. ^ Barr, Alfred H. (1936). Cubism and Abstract Art. New York: MoMA.
  5. ^ Tate Collection, Glossary: Biomorphic www.tate.org.uk, accessed in the 25 July 2008.
  6. ^ "Biomorphic art | Britannica".
  7. ^ Surrealism and Beyond in the Israel Museum search subject "Biomorphism"
  8. ^ Surrealism and Beyond in the Israel Museum "Biomorphism and Metamorphosis"
  9. ^ Karmel, Pepe (1995-02-03). "Art in Review: Phoebe Adams Curt Marcus Gallery 578 Broadway". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  10. ^ "Adams Sculptures Blur Lines Between Mass, Space". Albuquerque Journal. 1999-06-24. p. 50. ISSN 1526-5137.
  11. ^ "Desmond Morris - National Portrait Gallery". www.npg.org.uk. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  12. ^ "Michael Zansky: Giants & Dwarfs". Mana Contemporary. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  13. ^ Mccoy, Ann. Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford University Press. 2011-10-31. doi:10.1093/benz/9780199773787.article.b00113250.
  14. ^ Zerbst, Rainer (1988). Antoni Gaudi – A Life Devoted to Architecture. Trans. from German by Doris Jones and Jeremy Gaines. Hamburg, Germany: Taschen. p. 30. ISBN 3-8228-0074-0.
  15. ^ Rafati, V.; Sahba, F. (1989). "Bahai temples". Encyclopædia Iranica.
  16. ^ David W. Dunlap (July 1994). "T.W.A's Hub is Declared a Landmark". New York Times.
  17. ^ Fehervari, Geza (September 1983). "Revival in Islamic Architecture" (Vol. 7, no 6 ed.). Ahlan Wasahlan magazine. pp. 15–17.
  18. ^ Martin Eidelberg, et al. Design 1935–1965: what modern was: selections from the Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection, Montreal: Musée des arts décoratifs de Montréal, New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991, Page 90.
  19. ^ * Pina, Leslie (1998). Classic Herman Miller. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 0-7643-0471-2.
  20. ^ "How Designer Gaetano Pesce Makes His Fantastical Creations". Galerie. 2020-04-21. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  21. ^ Perry, Amy (2013-05-08). "The Legendary Gaetano Pesce on Work and Life". T Magazine. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  22. ^ "New York exhibition displays rarely seen furniture by Italian architect Gaetano Pesce". Dezeen. 2019-11-11. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  23. ^ "Marc Newson | Australian designer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  24. ^ "About Marc Newson". Discovering Designers. Retrieved 2020-04-26.

External links[edit]