Completing B&W experiments of light coming through trees has illuminated the shapes and patterns that can be captured in these scenes. I was first interested in Mondrian’s work because of the contrast between his paintings of nature and his grid-like abstract paintings. I want to explore how these styles are linked.
< One of Mondrian’s early paintings. Expressive, loose brushstrokes and vivid colour contrast between red and blue.
< This piece is a reworked painting of a tree, influenced by Cubism.
< By 1914 Mondrian had removed all curves from his work, and by 1916 there was no subject either, working with other primary colours. This new kind of abstraction he called Neo-Plasticism. Mondrian thought this art was based on a ‘greater, universal truth’ more important than the everyday.
Bridget Riley says in her book ‘Mondrian: Nature to Abstraction’:
“There are two conflicting traits in his [Mondrian’s] temperament… One is a feeling for rhythm, which quickens to pulse of life and seems somehow to be connected with his positive sense of the new; and the other, a love of order and balance, which is at the root of his search for unity and fullness… the lively quality may lead to an extreme dynamism and fragmentation, while the insistence on order can sometimes turn into a bland and almost schematic statement.”
You can see this experimentation with order and chaos in Mondrian’s work. His early work is so loose and disorderly yet his later works seem to have found a balance between order and chaos.
Reading more of Riley’s writing on Mondrian discusses how Mondrian worked. For example, the painting Pier and Ocean 1915 is based on a small, scribbly sketch of a starry night Mondrian made walking one evening. This sparked a series of experiments that lead to this final painting:
He then went on to produce a coloured version of the same piece Composition 1916:
Mondrian is taking scenes in nature and then reworking them, basing his decisions on something other than the original scene. What then was Mondrian’s work based on? How did he make decisions? Were there aesthetic or theoretical motives? Perhaps it’s a more personal method of working?
Mondrian’s writing in his essay Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art in an issue of the journal De Stijl helps to answer my questions:
“As a pure representation of the human mind, art will express itself in an aesthetically purified, that is to say, abstract form. The new plastic idea cannot therefore, take the form of a natural or concrete representation – 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.”
How does all this relate to my work?
This idea of making conscious decisions about a painting irrelevant to the scene in front of you is something that has always seemed too extreme to fit into my practice. I enjoy, for now at least, drawing form and colour from what’s around me. But a less extreme version of this, more like Mondrian’s earlier work, where you take a scene an abstract it slightly, is something that could fit well into this project.
Am I getting ahead of myself here? I need to do some painting to explore and think about all this.