Birth of the Object and the End of the Object

Peter Busa (American, 1914–1985)


64.8 x 76.2 cm (25 1/2 x 30 in.) Framed: 85.1 x 96.5 cm (33 1/2 x 38 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

The 1940s and 1950s (Gallery 336)





Birth of the Object and the End of the Object is one of several paintings in the biomorphic style that Busa pursued in the early to mid-1940s, when he was part of a new and soon-to-be-influential circle of New York School abstractionists that included Jackson Pollock [1984.749, 1971.638], Lee Krasner [2003.738], William Baziotes, and Gerome Kamrowski. Busa had first met Pollock at the Art Students League of New York, where they both studied with Regionalist artist Thomas Hart Benton [46.1456]. With the encouragement of avant-garde painters Arshile Gorky [1990.375] and Stuart Davis [1983.120], Busa began to question traditional representation, seeking instead to express inner psychological truths. He began to use the Surrealist technique of automatic drawing, a process of making marks and images without planning or forethought, a method that was believed to allow access to the primal unconscious. Along with other members of his circle, Busa also began to attend informal workshops on Surrealist automatism with the Chilean painter Roberto Sebastian Matta Echaurren (known as Matta) [1981.666].

In Birth of the Object and the End of the Object, Busa employed this automatic-drawing technique to create fluid organic forms with a looping, calligraphic brushstroke. Though a few shapes (such as the Native American Northwest Coast mask at left) are identifiable, most are entirely abstract. Busa created no illusion of space or depth, but instead produced a series of rhythmic squiggles that rest on the painting’s surface. The painting’s ambitious title implies the passage of time and also seems to refer to the shift Busa had taken away from conventional representation and toward an allover patterning that directly expresses the unconscious. Twenty years later, Busa wryly called this the period of his career when “the doodle was glorified” in his work. [1]

The year Busa painted Birth of the Object and the End of the Object—1945—proved to be the high-water mark of his involvement with the New York School and the early days of Abstract Expressionism. In the fall of that year, Peggy Guggenheim included Busa in a group show at her influential Art of the Century gallery; his work hung alongside that of artists such as Pollock, Mark Rothko [1986.57], Robert Motherwell [], and Willem de Kooning []. Over the next few years Busa gradually dissociated himself from the Abstract Expressionists and became increasingly involved with the hard-edged, primitivist style of artists who became known as Indian Space Painters group.

1. Oral history interview with Peter Busa, September 5, 1965, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Heather Hole


signed lower right


1945, the artist; 1985, estate of the artist. Penny and Elton Yasuna, Harwich Mass. and Sarasota, Fla; by 2005, Acme Fine Art, Boston; 2005, sold by Acme Fine Art to the MFA. (Accession Date: April 27, 2005)

Credit Line

The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund, by exchange


Reproduced with permission.