Allover Composition


“...all hierarchical distinctions have been, literally, exhausted and invalidated.”—Clement Greenberg

The term “all-over picture” was coined by Greenberg in his 1948 essay “The Crisis of the Easel Picture.” Tracing the origins of the phenomenon to the consistency of light, color, and gesture in Monet’s Impressionist paintings and Picasso’s Cubist paintings, Greenberg hailed the arrival in the work of New York's mid-century avant-garde of what he called “polyphonic,” “decentralized,” and “uniform” compositions similar to those of repeated wallpaper decorations. The term was first used to refer to the gestural compositions of Jackson Pollock and Mark Tobey, and later for the color fields of Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt. Abandoning the traditional elements of easel painting, such as focal point and pictorial hierarchies, what are now often referred to as allover compositions extend indefinitely to all four edges of the canvas and treat the entirety of the surface evenly. Many of conceptual artist Sol Lewitt's iconic “wall drawings” bring a larger scale and a scientific precision to allover abstraction. Contemporary artists such as Mark Bradford and Dan Colen use new mediums and techniques to create allover compositions, demonstrating the continued prevalence of the tendency.