Light, loneliness

Abstract Figures

— Hinting at the human form

As modernism sent artwork veering into the abstract, many artists abandoned all representation of people, places and things—resulting in the purely abstract art that is popular to this day. These are the Jackson Pollocks and Helen Frankenthalers of the world, whose work explores color and the nuaces and textures of paint itself.

But abstraction can be applied to other genres with strange, beautiful results. Austrialian indiginous artists like Emily Kngwarreye are known for compositions that appear abstract, but encode the trails and landmarks of their ancestral landscapes. And few subjects can sustain more distortion and abstraction than the human form. Just as chess pieces represent knights and bishops, a neolithic menhir suggests a standing figure. Abstract figures, sometimes called personages, appear throughout history but absolutely took over during the brief vogue for Surrealism. Georgio Di Chirico used mannequins as stand-ins for people in his haunted metaphysical landscapes, and Salvadore Dali distorted flesh into hideous topiary—but few artists abstracted the human form as creatively as Yves Tanguy.

Reed Enger, "Abstract Figures, Hinting at the human form," in Obelisk Art History, Published June 04, 2020; last modified June 04, 2020,

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Black Monolith, II: Homage To Ralph Ellison The Invisible Man

Jack Whitten, 1994

Dutch Interior (I)

Joan Miró, 1928

Light, loneliness

Yves Tanguy, 1940

Person Throwing a Stone at a Bird

Joan Miró, 1926

The Furniture of Time

Yves Tanguy, 1939

The Hunter (Catalan Landscape)

Joan Miró, 1923-1924

The Satin Tuning Fork

Yves Tanguy, 1940

Time and Again

Yves Tanguy, 1942
More Themes in Art

Artist Letters

From the heart to the pen

The Nude in Art

Getting out the skin

Metaphysical Art

Discomforting dreamscapes

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