In this book about Mondrian by John Milner, I learned a lot about this artist, who made such a remarkable evolution in his painting style throughout his life.
What I didn’t know was that he was equally a philosopher. He was influenced both by Dutch Calvinism and theosophy, and although outgrew both due to his experience in the world, he continued to believe in reincarnation. (I was reminded by this book why I could never believe in theosophy!)
With no wife or children, Mondrian lived in the austere simplicity that was also evident in his paintings. A theme in all his work was that of balance and counterbalance, and the theme of ‘man within nature’ was a a recurring one throughout his writings. He “emphasized the tension between depth and flatness,” bringing geometry into his paintings, and exploring movement in stillness.
He was profoundly self-scrutinizing and introspective, but at the same time loved the tango. “He deliberately reduced his means both in life and art to the minimum.” He was a utopian who was committed to the human understanding of form, space and construction.
“His goal was to determine the underlying structure in the world and to indicate this by means of the fewest, clearest elements available, removing all clutter, paring away everything inessential to reveal the barest, most economical solution…. In this way discipline became freedom and simplicity became richness.”
“It is the whites which provide monumental stillness. Calm amid movement, diversity in simplicity, inventiveness with control are all in balance. The individual finds a place within the whole, the specific exists within the general, as the individuals construct the whole…. Relationships, through their rhythmic interaction produced the colors, shapes and rhythms of life.”
Using only primary colors with black, white and grey for philosophical reasons, he explored what to him was the essence. While I may not agree with his take on the quest, I admire the effort and dedication nonetheless. And some of his work, like his Broadway Boogie-Woogie, is truly wonderful.
He had an international reputation by the end of his life even though his first one man show was only two years before his death.
“The abstract,” wrote Mondrian, “like the mathematical — is actually expressed in and through all things.”
I give this book four stars.