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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Piet Mondrian

We are all aware of Picasso's "invention" of Cubism and how he and Georges Braque collaborated to explore it's new way of analyzing masses. And, we're mostly aware of where it led them, into a "constructive" reassembling of those masses into a flattened, collage-like Cubism since labeled "synthetic". After a time though, both men tired of this "novelty" and moved on. A number of lesser names in painting did not move on to other interests, but instead chose to explore analytical Cubism, taking it to it's ultimate end--pure abstraction--no recognizable subject matter. Proceeding as it were, from banana splits, to parfaits, to milk shakes.

The Red Tree, 1909, Piet Mondrian
Gray Tree, 1912, Piet Mondrian

Composition Trees II, 1912, Piet Mondrian

Probably the most thorough in pursuing the continued study of Cubism was Piet Mondrian. Of Dutch descent, born in 1872, he was no novice painter by the time he picked up on the Cubist line of inquiry. His goal was to study, explore, simplify, and distill a given subject to its most basic forms. His earliest work centered upon landscapes and particularly trees, which, in their infinite variety he found endlessly intriguing. A study of his work shows a clear line of progression from what could almost be called "realism" through the Cubist involvement to his now trademark canvases filled with solid, thick, straight, vertical, and horizontal lines and juxtaposed squares or rectangles of pure, flat, primary colors. Short of the white-on-white canvases of Russian-born Kazimir Malevich, Mondrian went further in simplification to the point that even the term abstraction fails to contain the essence of his work.

Composition II in Red, Blue,
and Yellow, 1930,
 Piet Mondrian
His work became pure design, so far removed from the root of his original point of departure that it bore not the slightest trace of it's subjective ancestry. Mondrian moved far beyond Picasso's Synthetic Cubism as represented by the collage-like Three Musicians, which still clung to a very obvious subject matter, into patterns and designs that could hardly even be called non-representational. It was in-depth experimentation (almost to the point of being scientific) of pure line, shape, space, and color juxtaposition to such a cold, formal degree that his work could not even be called radical any more than stripes on the flag or a checkered tablecloth. Mondrian died in 1944, before he had a chance to see the influence he was to have upon the pop movement of the 60's or minimalism in the early 70's. Nonetheless, his legacy is still alive and well in much of what we take for granted in our commercial design and popular culture today.

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