Today is the birthday of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (b. 1877 – 1944). This artist is sometimes known as the father of geometric abstraction. He studied at the Amsterdam Academy. He moved away from painting landscapes in the Dutch tradition to Impressionism and on to Expressionism. But is was when he lived in Paris (1911 – 14) that he started to be influenced by Cubism and this began to show in his work.
He became one of founding members of the De Stijl group in 1917 in Holland. De Stijl means ‘Style’ – also known as Neoplasticism and is referred to a body of work from 1917 – 1931 which came from the Netherlands.
Proponents of De Stijl sought to express a new utopian ideal of spiritual harmony and order. They advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and colour; they simplified visual compositions to the vertical and horizontal directions, and used only primary colors along with black and white. Indeed, according to the Tate Gallery’s online article on neoplasticism, Mondrian himself sets forth these delimitations in his essay ‘Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art’. He writes, “… this new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance, that is to say, natural form and colour. On the contrary, it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour.” The Tate article further summarizes that this art allows “only primary colours and non-colours, only squares and rectangles, only straight and horizontal or vertical line.” The Guggenheim Museum’s online article on De Stijl summarizes these traits in similar terms: “It [De Stijl] was posited on the fundamental principle of the geometry of the straight line, the square, and the rectangle, combined with a strong asymmetricality; the predominant use of pure primary colors with black and white; and the relationship between positive and negative elements in an arrangement of non-objective forms and lines.”[ (wikipedia)
Mondrian’s work eventually became completely abstract. His interest in the behaviour of nature and the randomness of the weather translated itself into geometrical compositions consisting of ‘feminine’ horizontals and ‘masculine’ verticals (worldly and ‘other worldly’).
Everything in his life was reasoned or calculated. He was a compulsive neurotic and could never bear to see anything disordered or untidy. He seemed to suffer acutely, for instance, if a table had not been laid with perfect symmetry.
– Hannah Höch on Piet Mondrian, quoted by Edouard Roditi
Mondrian’s art was deemed as ‘degenerate’ by Hitler in 1933 and the artist moved to London in 1938, and on to New York in 1940, where he died in 1944.
Mondrian’s work is easily recognisable. The simple grid with thick black lines separating primary colours has lent itself to contemporary design on clothing , shoes and ceramics and many others.
Piet Mondrian website here
PS I have a new poem on Bookstains, it’s called The day with No name