Friday, March 07, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian, Dutch painter (1872-1944), lived at various times in Holland, France, England and the USA. Most people will recognise his work, even if they forget his name - or muddle it with other artists of his era with surnames beginning with "M" - I do that a lot (Monet, Manet, Matisse, Modigliani....and so on).

Mondrian's early works are nothing like those by which he is still remembered in the 21st century.

 Red Tree, 1909

 Farm near Duivendrecht, c 1916

He proved himself to be a talented painter and sketcher in both realistic and impressionistic modes, then he evolved, gradually, via cubism to absolute abstraction, eventually to what he called "neo-plasticism". I've never been a fan of his famous style, have declared, on occasion, that anyone with a ruler and some white, black and primary colour paints could do a comparable job. At that time I hadn't investigated the artist's intention. Having now done so I've warmed to him slightly, but not a lot.

 Tableau 1, 1921

 Trafalgar Square 1939-43

 Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red  1937-42

It appears that Piet Mondrian was greatly influenced by the "teachings" of Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophists, whose heyday coincided more or less with his. What was the significance of those highly recognisable grid paintings then?

From a very good article by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette at Art History Unstuffed
In Mondrian’s mature canonical style, the grids became irregular so that the colored units had to be formally balanced. The black lines of the grid became more assertive and the shapes are not equal, nor are the colors evenly distributed, nor are they of equal size. However, Mondrian learned how to balance the elements, turning asymmetry into symmetry, harmony and balance. The red, yellow and blue, the primary colors signified the unchanging and absolute elements of the universe; the vertical and horizontal, the eternal and unchanging laws of the absolute. Eventually the lines met the edges, implying a larger and wider field stretching beyond the painting itself. Mondrian carefully considered the demarcation of his surfaces and brought the frame forward, rather than allowing the canvas to be set into a surround, giving the impression of depth.
In an essay, he spoke of an "absolute harmony of straight lines and pure colors underlying the visible world."

And from David Sylvester, in his book "About Modern Art: Critical Essays, 1948-1997"
"Intense involvement with living things is involvement with death. If you follow nature, wrote Mondrian in 1920, you have to accept 'whatever is capricious and twisted in nature'. If the capricious is beautiful, it is also tragic: 'If you follow nature you will not be able to vanquish the tragic to any real degree in your art. It is certainly true that naturalistic painting makes us feel a harmony which is beyond the tragic, but it does not express this in a clear and definite way, since it is not confined to expressing relations of equilibrium. Let us recognise the fact once and for all: the natural appearance, natural form, natural colour, natural rhythm, natural relations most often express the tragic . . . We must free ourselves from our attachment to the external, for only then do we transcend the tragic, and are enabled consciously to contemplate the repose which is within all things.'.......................

"Mondrian wanted the infinite, and shape is finite. A straight line is infinitely extendable, and the open-ended space between two parallel straight lines is infinitely extendable. A Mondrian abstract is the most compact imaginable pictorial harmony, the most self-sufficient of painted surfaces (besides being as intimate as a Dutch interior). At the same time it stretches far beyond its borders so that it seems a fragment of a larger cosmos or so that, getting a kind of feedback from the space which it rules beyond its boundaries, it acquires a second, illusory, scale by which the distances between points on the canvas seem measurable in miles...............
In 1940 Mondrian moved to New York, presumably to avoid German invasions in Europe. New York was a whole new world for his investigation. He must have loved the grid layout of the streets there, but more surprisingly he was enchanted by the music of the city - boogie-woogie, jazz, and jazz dance.

Broadway Boogie Woogie 1942-43.
(From Havard University Gazette)Mondrian first heard boogie-woogie pianists Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons when he came to New York, and became an instant enthusiast, using the term in a number of later painting titles. He denied that his paintings were visual equivalents of the music, and yet one can see a correspondence between the rolling bass figures of this propulsive style and Mondrian's black grids dancing with spots of color.

 Piet Mondrian by André Kertész
A raucous blues form originating in roadhouses and rent parties, boogie-woogie would not seem to be the kind of music a worshiper of ideal forms would be attracted to. Nor does Mondrian, a severe, angular figure wearing round, thick glasses and a three-piece suit (photos of the artist can be seen in the exhibition), conform to most people's idea of a jazz fan. But in actuality, Mondrian maintained an intense interest in American jazz throughout most of his life. According to Cooper, he even took dancing lessons and kept up with all the latest steps.
Mondrian never married, appeared to be wedded to his art. He had a close colleague and friend in American artist Harry Holtzman, who became his sole heir and executor to his estate.


Wouldn't it be fun if his chart looked like one of those later paintings of his? In a way it does, there are angles (squares) and straight lines(oppositions), but he certainly would not approve of the trines (triangles), he had no time at all for diagonal lines!

What I noticed first about Mondrian's natal chart were three "two-fers": conjunctions - Sun/Mercury in Pisces, Moon/Venus in Aquarius, and Jupiter/Uranus in Cancer. I have to say that I don't get much of a sensitive Cancerian feel to Mondrian, but Jupiter linked to Uranus, ruler of Aquarius (where Venus is found in his chart), makes the placements easier to understand. His natal Sun was in Pisces; neither does he seem terribly Piscean, from what we know of him. I see his Moon in Aquarius, for sure, as driving factor in his art. He brought something quite unique and new to the art world... but wait, his ideas were driven by Theosophy, which is I think, Neptunian in nature. Mondrian's Pisces Sun/Mercury is ruled by Neptune....I get it!

Mondrian looked like his Saturn in Capricorn in the photographs above didn't he? One could easily have mistaken him for a bank manager, accountant or civil servant!


DC said...

I notice in the painting Composition with Yellow Blue and Red, that there seems to be an optical illusion each intersection of the black lines, a lighter small square seems to appear at every junction while looking at it...I wonder if it's a computer screen anomaly or if it happens when looking at the works in person.
I also read an article about him, when he was visited by Alexander Calder in his Paris studio. Calder was influenced by Mondrian of course, but at one point Calder suggested that Mondrian incorporate some real, physical movements (in the form of sculpture) into his paintings. Mondrian replied emphatically (and maybe arrogantly) that his paintings already moved enough on their own. LOL

mike said...

A very good observation, DC! I do see the intersection white-outs, but only when I move my eyes across the field of view, then the white-outs appear in my peripheral vision.

Like you, Twilight, I'm not overly fond of this type of linear-geometric art, but I certainly can appreciate the impact and significance he provided for that period and future artists. However, I do particularly like some of his works, as they are cheery, lively, and vibrant. Many of his canvases remind me a bit of art nouveau and the Craftsman style that was popular at the time.

In addition to his Sun-Mercury conj ruled by Neptune, that conj is also ruled by Jupiter in Cancer...his Uranus in Cancer and Moon in Aquarius are in mutual reception, plus Jupiter is opposed by Saturn, the other ruler of Aquarius. So, he probably exuded austere, cool, and contained elements, distracting away from his Pisces and Cancer aspects. As you indicate, his Sun-Mercury conj is ruled by Neptune in Aries, which means that the Sun, Mercury, and Neptune are disposed by Aries ruler, Mars...Mars is in the first house (Aries' natural house), emphasizing the Aries effect. I can relate to a strong Mars and Uranus...Aries and Aquarius...feel to him and his work.

Twilight said...

DC ~ Hmm....At times I see a lighter grey small square at the black line intersections, if I "squint" a bit, but then it disappears. I think it must be caused by the shine of computer screen image, but never having seen a Mondrian original, that's just suppostion.

The artist obviously was able to see much, much more in his neo-plasticism works than I've been able to: movement? I must be doing it wrong! :-)

Twilight said...

mike ~ I like his earlier work, but the neo-plasticism does nothing for me, though it has provided him with a memorable "signature" style, and obviously meant something to him, not easily shared.

thanks for the additional astrological points. I sensed there might be some disposing going on, but knew you'd catch it for me. ;-)

Yes, Mars, Uranus, Aries, Aquarius are fitting, with a Piscean/Jupter/Neptune underlay.... his liking for Theosophy. His way of portraying what he learned from Theosophy emerged in an unexpected fashion via the former planet/sign quartet.

Vanilla Rose said...

Monet, Manet, Monet
Could be funny
If it weren't so confusing.

Twilight said...

Vanilla Rose ~ LOL!

If sung with the right accent.