Mondrian… zero individualism.


Reality is the main and natural subject that accompanies man’s life, his count in the universe.

What is real is directly proportional to what our senses transmit to us, to what we enter into our consciousness, it is what conditions our behaviour. Reality, if the senses are distorted, can become an aberration and in order to avoid this human beings own the critical capability to recognize the error.

Art is an instrument of knowledge, its interpretation is a motivation that moves on the rainbow of imagination. To scrutinize reality is the duty of art. Reality becomes a vision in plastic expression and in the image so as to manifest concepts, elements of universal value, elements that allow to deepen judgments, to increase the critical possibilities of consciousness.

Twilight Mill, 1907/ 08 approx. Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Hague

It is art that makes the story of the “Last Judgement” frescoed on the back wall of the Sistine Chapel real in the same manner as the concept that holds together the lines of a painting by Mondrian.

So reality through art shows its changes, it manifests itself according to its different expressions, its infinite evolutions to give us new moments of analysis, to give us possible answers to continuous existential questions.

The reality has shapes that define an object and the object inside brings its vitality, whether natural, metaphysical or human.

With Mondrian and the Abstract art vitality is intrinsic in the essence of what brings shapes to their plasticity, their appearance in the real. The concept of reality turns upside down for a moment to reveal another relative interpretation that thought and consciousness can make of the world before them.

The process that Mondrian makes is an irreversible process from an anthropological point of view, in the sense that it can only be conquered and understood after a long journey that art and man have made and developed over the centuries.

It is not a concept linked to primitivism and the simplicity of a line or a sound or a colour, but a connection to the essence of these things, therefore a synthesis that can only be conceived after cancelling part of the knowledge in order to start from scratch. It is a cathartic operation of reality that Mondrian operates in a

spasmodic research of the whole that is always present, that does not need the superfluous, but that underlies it, that makes it universal and perennial.

Evolution, 1910-1911, oil on canvas, 3 panels, 178 X 85 cm.
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum

The art that Mondrian shows us is very important to understand modernity and to approach a new way of seeing the natural world, to begin to evaluate how man and his thought can have more languages that develop through his works.

The question arises therefore, if beauty in art can only come to us from the harmony of classical themes or can it also have other expressions from which to evaluate the world that surrounds us and that is outside and inside us?

Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan, better known as Piet Mondrian (Amersfoot, 7th march 1872 – New York 1st february 1944) is an artist of his time and therefore he suffers it, studies it, determines it by asking his contemporaries fundamental questions also from the social point of view, his art is a social art, that is to say it relates to the problems that made the history of humanity at that time.

Our artist lives the early years of the twentieth century with great apprehension because these are the years that bring him between the First World War and the rise of Nazism, so he sees his art as an approach to life according to a new and different impulse that the world needs in its social and technological acceleration.

Some may consider abstract art therefore being distant from the more exquisitely social contexts because it is mistakenly thought of as a cold and often abstruse form of expression;, However, Mondrian wrote so:

“Pure abstract art is completely emancipated from naturalistic appearances. It is no longer a natural harmony but creates equivalent relationships of the utmost importance for life. Only in this way can freedom, peace and social and economic happiness be achieved”.

The “equivalent relations” of Mondrian’s art correspond to the idea of justice and the realization of ideals of equality purged of any traditional and moral encrustation just like pure abstract art that must be freed from naturalistic form and colour.

Mondrian writes that a new life is provided by “equivalent relationships that nullify any particular interest to the detriment of others… making individuals increasingly free on material and moral ground… Plastic art does not tolerate oppression and is not conditioned by material and physical factors, because oppression hinders human progress.”

Mondrian finds in nature an object whose intimate construction of reality is revealed.

His inspiration is linked to Schoenmaekers’ thought which gives philosophical legitimacy to his art and to the fundamental theoretical asset of the “De Stijl” movement which he founded together with Theo van Doesburg and Bart van der Leck in 1917, called “Neoplasticism”

Neoplasticism reduces the diversity that exists in nature to a plastic expression of defined relationships.

It is a concept in which we are at the antipodes of individualism and expressionism, we are diametrically opposed to Kandinsky’s subjective and emotional abstractionism.

Art is an instrument that through the aesthetics of abstraction sets different worldviews, and in any case valid for a continuous search for truth.

Mondrian writes in his 1929 work “pure abstract art”: “New art teaches us how to see reality clearly as it is and not the appearance of reality as we see it, nor of the life we live, but it is the expression of true reality and true life”.

Everything can be expressed with line and colour, that is, with primary elements for the representation of reality, a visual writing that leads to a mathematical conception, an interpretation that therefore has universal variables, and thus represents geometric abstractionism.

The emotion in front of Mondrian’s works is aroused by the simple rationality that gives order to our perceptions by turning them over on an imagination that tends to balance, that balance that is at the basis of all natural laws and forms themselves.

Mondrian stated in a letter of 1914 written to Hans- Peter Bremmer: “…Nature inspires me, puts me, like every other painter, in an emotional state that causes me an urgency to do something. I want to get as

close as possible to the truth and abstract everything from it, until I reach the foundations. I believe it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines built with consciousness, guided by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, helped if necessary by other lines or curves, can become works of art, as strong as true…”.

The primary colours represent a spiritual impulse for the artist with a precise meaning, yellow linked to energy of the sun, red the union between light and space, and blue, symbol of spirituality.

Mondrian followed the “theosophical society”, a movement that influenced many intellectuals and artists of his time, a religion that led to the visual change that many sought in art.

The most famous names of abstraction in art, Malevic, Mondrian, Kandinsky, were all influenced by Madame Blavatsky’s theories, unlike Paul Klee who was distrustful.

Theosophy according to definition of the Treccani- Encyclopaedia: “…According to the t. all thereligions of the world preserve only partial remnants of an ancient divine truth known in the various epochs by a small number of great initiates, who, however, would only divulge its aspects in conformity with the cultural conditions of the moment and the environment…. According to the theosophical cosmology, all the existing proceeds from the One, conceived as ‘superconsciousness’; man has for supreme purpose the return to the One, but its gradual refinement requires a great number of existences regulated by the law of karma”.

Again from Wikipedia : “…The three principles and purposes on which the Theosophical Society is based are:

1 . to form a nucleus of universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, sex, creed, caste or color;

2. to encourage the comparative study of religions, philosophies and sciences;

3. to investigate the unexplained laws of nature and powers latent in man.

Mondrian’s path with his art has a very peculiar process of inspiration and arrives at abstraction through a maturation that starts from his first figurative works, exemplary is to see what happens in the series of trees.

He arrives at abstraction after knowing the cubism that had given him the first input to demolish the object, ultimately the input to become another person, that artist of his best known works that even made him regect everything he had painted before so close to nature.

He wanted to clean up the traditional elements used in painting and he also started with a very limited colour palette.

To get to the essence he started with Red Tree of 1909, then Grey Tree of 1911 and finally Flowering Apple Tree of 1912. Trees are a series from 1908 to 1912. There is clearly the search for a formal synthesis of a simplification that leads to purity and therefore to the maximum element that is universal. So the expression of the summa comes with the maximum rationalization by spiritual induction.

Red Tree

With this painting Mondrian begins his phase that will lead him to reach pure expression, starting from the natural form, therefore from a changing reality underlying an essence that will be universal and regular for all forms. A work that is the first step towards abstraction. Thus abstraction conceived as a new figurativeness that frees art from the replication of what is in nature. In the painting there is still an emotional interpretation of forms. A Tree with a complex and luxuriant ramification that Mondrian searches for and where one notices how from earth to sky there is a deliberate verticalization that is like a spiritual elevation, the human aspiration to elevate the spirit. The colours are those of blue and red, colours that represent the human soul (the unlimited space) and the vital energy that penetrates it. Space and matter are in a contrast where forms have limits to be crossed in several directions.

Grey tree

1911, oil on canvas, 78.50 cm × 107.5 cm. The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

In this painting the colour almost disappears, it is a reminder that goes from the particular to the universal, there is a passage of melancholy. The tree appears more stylized with sharp curved lines and straight lines that are delineated with a certain compositional order and no longer natural. In front of the work we are perplexed and then we enter a world where introspection refers to a limbo in which the subject is emptied of coloristic references and with a dark setting. There is an evident dramatic sense inherent in an ongoing metamorphosis. The tree begins not to be evident and the sharp brushstrokes allow us to glimpse an intellectual spasm, a transforming force that seeks another truth. The space begins to flatten, to make the profiles more marked.

This is the most significant painting of this period of the artist because it shows an aesthetic/creative implosion where the crevices of the soul are expressed in the dynamism of the branches that seek a certain symmetry. The strength of the gestural stroke through the material is made concrete by neutral colours such as black, white and grey. There is a lyrical tension of the tragic that is emerging in the search for the absolute, the vertical that is intertwined with the horizontal. It brings the emblem of the tree as an instrument of investigation of knowledge to an interlocutory moment between being and not being, the tree between transcendence and matter in this painting is a station towards the purity that will come in abstraction.

Flowering apple tree

Olio su tela 78,5×107,5 cm.
Gemeentemuseum, L’Aia

Here the die is cast, Mondrian’s neoplasticism is being enunciated, still unexplained but at the beginning, almost ready to produce a revolution in painting. The revolution of simple, mathematical, pure abstraction. With the apple tree in bloom the tree is completely stylized. The black colour of the line now becomes fundamental to frame the object of visual reality where there is no longer three-dimensional space.

The curves represent the trend of the leafless branches that are in a compositional grid now ordered between horizontal and vertical lines. The trunk of the tree is recognizable by the colour green and earth on the central axis from where a symmetrical translation is balanced to the right and left.

Reality is revealed through its interpretation, it is understood and not imitated. The spiritual search for a fourth dimension becomes a clear expression in this work, the intellect that explores a different and new space on the canvas will be a motif that from Mondrian onwards will reach Fontana and beyond. The journey from appearing to being with this work is accomplished, the abstractionism is accomplished.

Mondrian’s work develops in a crescendo of experiences that see him also in contact with the currents unfolding in his era, he will move from the early realist and impressionist, to luminism and symbolism to find in Cubism a first inspiration that will lead him to overcome it with abstractionism.

Reading the work and the thought of this artist is like taking a fundamental leap towards a new concept of art that will underpin the whole of the 19th century and that will lead him to look at the world and aesthetics with different eyes. Abstract art with Mondrian guides us to cross unthinkable thresholds as far as representation is concerned. He was a very hard-working and almost maniacal and obsessive artist with the most famous paintings with perpendicular black lines and basic natural colours, yellow, red and blue. His research that is never banal but that in the apparent plainness of certain works may seem a simplistic approach that the artist does not have, there is instead the desire to reach perfection and universality.

Composizione-C-N°-III-con Manahawkin, New Jersey

Since 1921 we have the works that frame the artist in the collective imagination and for which he is universally recognized even by those less accustomed to art. If Michelangelo is “La pietà”, Leonardo “La Gioconda”, Mondrian is that of the black grid with, red, yellow and blue. He proposes a motive that will be taken into account by modern consumerism, design, architecture. Great intellectuals such as Robert van’t Hoff who brought his knowledge of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright , Gerrit Thomas Rietveld who tried to bring the principles of the group into architecture, will join the De Stijl Movement.

disegno, casa Rietveld Schröder
Prins Hendriklaan 50, 3583 EP Utrecht, Paesi Bassi

A group therefore aimed at a new collective structure of society. A painting of Mondrian in a house is a spiritual interpretation that relaunches the personality in a context of beauty aiming to find the balance between discipline and freedom.

Mondrian is a profound lover of life and his ultimate artwork was realized when he moved to America in 1938 after the advance of Nazism in Europe.

In New York our artist arrives after apparently having reached by now absolute perfection, pure art; instead he discovers here the music that makes him paint the series “Boogie-Woogie” as a symbol and expression of a vital city, a city teeming with movement that seems to him the place where to find and apply the ideal social order that he had always hoped for.

MoMA – New York

Mondrian had aimed to eliminate the humanity of subjectivity, and to build a new era of artistic beauty. He died at the age of 71 of pneumonia in New York City. Many artists of that new American world owed him a lot, the American Abstract Expressionism was born with him. They all owe him: Pollock, Rothko, Newman, Kline.

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