I went to the MOMA exhibition inventing abstraction and I was astonished as how my opinions on the paintings of Piet Mondrian had changed with just a glance at his older work of his early career. It made me understand who he was and where he came from. I could appreciate his geometric paintings finally after so many years of hating it. I realized I didn’t value them the right way because I didn’t know anything about the work or the artist. For me, it really helps to see where the artist came from and what he did before he became famous. It is important to see, but also to research more about what you have seen. I have initiated a new deep found respect for Mondrian’s minimalism and his simplistic portrays of art and painting.
Piet Mondrian first started to do representational paintings of nature, which were later inspired by art movements such as Pointillism and Fauvism. Later in a search for simplicity, he became very interested in Cubism and his search of a spiritual knowledge. The use of geometric shapes, black lines, white space and the emphasis on the primary colors was a distinct aspect of Mondrian’s work. Shifting his work toward Minimalism and Abstraction.
Mondrian started to combine his art with his theosophical studies into a theory that made his break from representational painting all together. It was here that he started the De Stijl journal where he published essays analyzing his theories, evolving into a style that he named Neo-Plasticism.
Piet Mondrian uses an innovative style of grid lines, square shapes and primary colors with layers and brushstrokes that contradict the flatness of the composition. He explains in his writings: “I construct lines and color combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness. Nature (or, that which I see) inspires me, puts me, as with any painter, in an emotional state so that an urge comes about to make something, but I want to come as close as possible to the truth and abstract everything from that, until I reach the foundation (still just an external foundation!) of things… I believe it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true”. – The New Plastic in Painting, 1917
Since I first saw a Mondrian at about 16 years old, I thought it was “boring and I didn’t get it”. At 19 I took my first college Art History class and again was very disinterested in Mondrian. For some reason it seemed too simple to me, as if it was a bad thing. Now that I am older, I definitely appreciate more the simple things; and have found a new sincere respect toward the work of Piet Mondrian. Where art is minimalized to its very own core; to the beginning, to the essential, the basic, the fundamental and vital aspects of painting.
The same experience happened to me with Mark Rothko, many years ago; and now I can’t look at a Rothko for less than 10 minutes. Simplicity is very important in art, and I believe something I might be lacking in my own work. The search for simplicity could be a constant battle for someone like me, but it is a necessary one, for it will open up new meanings and new answers to my own questions.