Piet Mondrian has always been somewhat of an enigma to me. How did he go from producing muted semi-abstract paintings of nature and architecture to minimal works depicting pure space, light, line and contrasting blocks of red, yellow and blue.
I might be a step closer from learning that his counterparts in the Netherlands, significantly
artist Bart Van Der Leck, were playing around with stylised, flat primary colour arrangements. Whilst Mondrian also revelled in Picasso’s discoveries in Cubism. Whenever his lightbulb moment in the 1920’s, it’s crystal clear that he developed an original artistic vision consisting of ‘balance and harmony versus oppositions’… in diverse block colour positioning, entrancing lengths and thickness of black lines, fixed or ‘unfixed’ edges, precisely shaped arrangements. It was an authentic way of life for Mondrian. His pure way of thought. His pure way of action. It all melded together, both in his reality and so then onto the canvas.
This is why the exact model of his Parisian studio is the right way of getting this across to the Tate viewer. Only by seeing how Mondrian lived, the little details and how he interacted with his art. You can see how balance, composition, purity and form all come together for him. They were the same thing. Art was his life and life was art.
The exhibition doesn’t fail to impress. Just as you immerse yourself in his paintings and feel as though you have captured the substance of his actions on canvas, you go into the next room and he’s subtly changed it again. Adding more lines, shortening some lines, flat planes of colour bending around the canvas or stopping suddenly at the edge whilst the line itself continues around. So many slight variations and as a result at times I felt slightly disturbed viewing it. Does this line sit right. Am I happy where this colour block has been placed. Then just as I digest it again, Mondrian goes and changes it… lines become coloured themselves. So are they lines or small planes of primary colour. In his US period of ‘Boogie-Woogie’ you sense that a melody of drama has been further imbued. I could never experienced this wave of understanding if I hadn’t had seen this huge body of work all together in this show. Simply seeing one of his canvases in isolation just hasn’t cut it for me in the past.
Another realisation were the individual brush marks present in his work that make the canvases
so much more personable and ‘present’ than I had originally thought. There’s something about seeing digital images on your laptop that makes you think that they are boring, plain flat blocks of colour, but get in front of them and its a completely different matter. You may see black lines, squares or rectangular blocks of red, yellow or blue colour but what you won’t see unless you’re there are those subtle differences in primary colour. A red may be darker than the canvas near to it, then the third one along may be more of a brighter tomato red. The variations of white through to grey are ever-changing. His lines aren’t so rigid as you would imagine. In my mind, even the cracks in the oil paint contribute towards his overall approach of balance, harmony and oppositions.
I couldn’t end this blog without mentioning the extensive works by Indian female artist, Nasreen Mohamedi which complements the Mondrian exhibition. Another artist who turned to minimalism and a much simpler way of defining the world around her… lines within lines, emerging shapes and dynamic 3D geometric forms. Along with a selection of photographic work which goes to emphasise how nature provided limitless inspiration in the form of patterns, lines and texture, and consequently how she completely abstracted it into her own vision. Its enlightening to see.
Mondrian is on til 5th October
At the Tate Liverpool