Who’s Afraid of Horror Vacui?

Keith Haring, Untitled, 1983, is a panel filled from edge to edge with outlines of human forms. Image by Passion Estampes.

Though minimalism has staked its claim on our post-modernist culture and taken residence there, we’ve got more than enough room in our sensibilities for something less sombre and stark.

For this post we’ll take a break from the stripped down and bare minimalist aesthetic, and we’ll set off for the other end of the design spectrum where spaces are compulsively filled, where emptiness is a disease kept at bay by filling every nook and cranny with intricate geometries.

It may be a negative quality for Mario Praz — the critic who coined the term horror vacui (which literally means “fear of empty space” in Latin) as a reaction to what he deemed to be the overly cluttered Victorian trend in interiors — but there have been centuries that have passed before then that were bursting with beautiful, exuberant excess. Case in point: the architecture in western and southern Asia, where walls, ceilings and every other surface is filled with intricate arabesque designs and patterns. There is also horror vacui in Egyptian wall art, in Greek and Roman architecture, in Baroque and Rococo styles.

Though we tend to see more horror vacui in art and design from eras past than in contemporary ones, its principles are at work in the art of Jackson Pollock and Keith Haring. It is there in the exciting Emilio Pucci’s prints, in the intricacies of tattoo designs and graffiti. We even feel its influence in music — we hear it in the layered rhythmic beats of salsa and techno, the blare of rock music, the myriad improvisations of jazz.

Jackson Pollock executing his signature paint dribbles and drizzles.

Jackson Pollock's "Convergence", 1952

A fab piece from Emilio Pucci's 2011 spring collection

Horror vacui felt right at home in the acid high of the psychedelic 60's.

Remember how challenging it was to look for that needle in the haystack we know as Waldo?

A wonderful piece of street art! Click on the image for more great graffiti at The Moga.

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