Obelisk Art History
Themes in Art

Abstract Figures
Hinting at the human form

Abstract Figures, Themes in ArtLight, loneliness

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 August 06, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/subjects/abstract-figures/.

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Anonymous Figure Antonia Eiriz, 1967

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Dutch Interior (I), Joan Miró

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Epitalamio, Carlos Mérida

Epitalamio Carlos Mérida, 1968

Face, Chaïbia Talal

Face Chaïbia Talal, 1970

Light, loneliness, Yves Tanguy

Light, loneliness Yves Tanguy, 1940

Madre Terra, (Mother Earth), Carlos Mérida

Madre Terra, (Mother Earth) Carlos Mérida, 1970

Person Throwing a Stone at a Bird, Joan Miró

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The Furniture of Time, Yves Tanguy

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The Hunter (Catalan Landscape), Joan Miró

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The Satin Tuning Fork, Yves Tanguy

The Satin Tuning Fork Yves Tanguy, 1940

Time and Again, Yves Tanguy

Time and Again Yves Tanguy, 1942

Torso, Antoine Pevsner

Torso Antoine Pevsner, 1924 – 1926

Untitled (Baghdadiyat), Faeq Hassan

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Untitled (Surrealist Composition), Pavel Tchelitchew

Untitled (Surrealist Composition) Pavel Tchelitchew, 1920

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