Among the soft aircraft carriers and canyon rock formations at Wainui Beach are bubbled masses of rock.
Shapes in the rock suggested something sentient slowly coming into being. I tried sketching one amorphous mass to see if the abstract, fluid shapes would create their own sort of language – but the pattern was too irregular. My line was too cautious and the cartoonish, biomorphic shapes I wanted would not cooperate.
Biomorphism was one of many -isms (Cubism, Futurism, Fauxism, Expressionism, Abstract-expressionism, Suprematism and Surrealism et al) in the paroxysms of early modern art.
The abstract line in biomorphic works suggests living forms so Biomorphism sits easily with Surrealism.
Spanish modernist Joan Miró explored the Surrealist technique of automatic drawing as a way to free the inchoate language of the unconscious. The shapes of his 1966 lithograph create their own language.
The biomorphic forms in Willem de Kooning’s 1945 work Pink Angels also have their own language but the relationship between the shapes is more primal than Miro’s cartoon-like, brightly coloured party.
In De Kooning’s 1947 painting Valentine, the biomorphic forms are darker but are tinged with lysergic glee.
A similar primality surfaces in American sculptor David Smith’s iron sculptures.
Iron was “eidetic in property”, he believed. Set loose in abandoned steel mills in Voltri, Italy, Smith forged new identities from old tools and machinery. In his 1952 work Agricola IX, an array of gear levers rise like polyps from a horizontal lightning spike. They respond to the cosmic or biotic rhythms around them with an air of mild, blind, surprise.
Fluid, organic shapes used in Biomorphism appear in Gisborne artists Drew Hill and Brett Crockett’s plexiglass sculpture The Guardian — Te Tairawhiti. Installed in Gisborne’s CBD, the translucent, open-fronted form suggests a cloak.
“We wanted forms to float like they do in a lava lamp,” Hill told The Gisborne Herald. “The patterns are islands that reference the great migration and the way canoes hopped from island to island to get here, and they are DNA that morph into different shapes.”
The sea-worn rock at Wainui beach morphed into different shapes as I sketched them but I was too infected with their blobby geologic inertia to make the drawing work.
Someone asked as they passed by what I was doing.
The rock, I said. Biomorphic.
“You stoned?” she said.
It was true the rock mass’s slow language was morphing me.
The tide had risen and my feet had turned to stone.
“Trying. Draw. It,” I bubbled.
The woman hurried away
“Be boulder,” she said.
“That doesn’t make sense,” I said.
“Too late,” she said.