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Dense Composition

Jackson Pollock
Alchemy, 1947
Oil, aluminum, alkyd enamel paint with sand, pebbles, fibers and broken wooden sticks on canvas
114.6 x 221.3 cm (45.1 x 87.1 in.)
Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Dense compositions in paintings often evoke a sense of abundance, opulence, and bustling activity, sometimes even leaving the viewer with a breathless sensation. This method of filling the picture plane shows versatility in artistic style and genre, especially in abstract and figurative paintings.

A prime example of applying the principle of dense composition in abstract art can be found in Jackson Pollock's masterpiece, Alchemy, painted in 1947. Pollock consistently aimed to fill the entire space with a multitude of elements, resulting in a visually intense and dynamic experience. Similarly, in Alchemy, Pollock layers scattered paint in various directions and colors, accompanied by liberal and gestural brushstrokes. This masterful technique creates a captivating feeling of depth and complexity, exuding a continuous rhythm and energy that draws viewers into its dynamic and vibrant world.

Lari Pittman
Opaque: Outside of the Egg 4, 2021
Acrylic and spray enamel on gessoed archival museum board mounted onpanel
101.6 x 81.3 cm (40 x 32 in.)
© Lari Pittman, courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo by OnArt Studio

On the other hand, in figurative paintings, density becomes evident through the artist's meticulous attention to detail and unwavering determination to eliminate any blank areas in the composition. Lari Pittman is an American contemporary painter renowned for his densely populated works, with his paintings featuring a wide array of symbols, patterns, and imagery. Through strategic use of the fear of empty spaces*, Pittman’s compositions are replete with a multitude of elements, ranging from textiles and ornate decorative motifs to complex architectural settings and densely crowded environments.

*The concept of "horror vacui," originating from the Latin phrase meaning "fear of empty space," reflects the artistic inclination to populate every available surface with detailed elements, leaving little to no negative space. Artworks influenced by horror vacui strive to avoid any empty spaces, as artists believe that such voids could disrupt the overall harmony and balance of the composition. As a result, they employ ornate patterns, densely interwoven figures, and designs to fill the entire surface, showcasing their skill and dedication to crafting elaborate artworks.

Related categories

Painting

Color Field Painting

Perception

Repetition/Patterns

Geometric Abstraction

Abstraction

Layers

Oil Paint

Bold Composition

Rough and Brave Brushstrokes

Gestural Abstraction

Short and Quick Brushstrokes

Emotion

Op Art