Piet Mondrian declared that he was not interested in painting pictures, but that his art was about “seeking truth”.
For him, this search came to mean reducing images of the things he saw around him to their most objective essence – to remove the subjective and thereby achieve clarity.
Mondrian’s most famous works, the grids, use simple horizontal and vertical lines to separate the bright primary colours of red, yellow and blue to create a “universal harmony”. It is easy to see the effect Mondrian’s abstraction has had on areas of graphic design and architecture.
Mondrian’s life was shaped by the wars of the last century, leading him to move his studio between Amsterdam, Paris, London and New York.
This repeated relocation meant that he met, and was influenced by, many of his great contemporaries and the radical art movements of the day. He in turn had a massive influence on the development of art in the 20th century. His extreme abstraction challenged notions of art, and at the same time changed them.
To mark 70 years since his death, two major exhibitions of his work have opened in Britain – “Mondrian and his Studios” at Tate Liverpool, and “Mondrian and Colour” at the Turner Contemporary in Margate.
Both exhibitions draw heavily on the Mondrian collection held at the Gemeentemuseum Den Hag and from private collections.
The Margate exhibition is part of a Summer of Colour festival in the town and contains over 50 of his works. It takes you from the dark realism of his early works through some truly startling paintings of landscapes and buildings in dramatic primary colours, such as The Red Mill from 1911, through his work with the influential De Stjjl group which he helped found towards the end of the First World War, up to his death in 1944.
The show not only describes the evolution of his use of colour but shows his development from early works in the Dutch realist tradition through to his extreme abstractions.
Works such as “Farmhouse with Wash on the Line” from 1897 demonstrate his then belief that art should represent the everyday buildings and subjects he saw around him.
He used dark, earthy colours and often painted in twilight to get the most dramatic contrasts between light, dark and form.
The exhibition ends with some of the more challenging abstract works – including the grids.
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