I’m not a regular visitor to art galleries, if I go once a year that is unusual. Unless I go somewhere like Amsterdam when I go and see the Van Goghs. This year I have been to three different galleries. What changed?
I don’t know how long I have been a fan of the paintings of Mondrian. I fell for the simplicity of three primary colours, three non colours, blocks and lines. It was seeing one, in the flesh to speak, in the 1980’s that showed me that the real ones have so much more, the intention, vivacity and life, totally the opposite to the cold austere painting you would expect. I went specially to find a studio in west London to get the T-Shirt, using the design, I am pictured wearing in 1986. I have written in the past about Strasbourg’s modern art ‘Sistine Chapel’ and Springtime for Mondrian.
It just so happened that this year there were two Mondrian exhibitions. None for ages, remarks about buses etc.
The first was an exhibition of Mondrian and Colour at the Turner Gallery in Margate in early August. It went back way before the abstract works he’s best known for to the time when he was a landscape painter in Holland painting pictures of the river near to his house like the one on the right. Trees, farms windmills and other normal landscape subjects. Then, he was influenced by cubism and pointillism after spending time in Paris and the impact of painters like Braque and Picasso on his style. Stuck in Holland by the outbreak of the First World War during a visit home his style developed to what we know today. It was fascinating to follow the development from standard Dutch landscape painter through to the painter of the abstract grid shaped blocks of colours he is known for.
The second exhibition was at the Tate Liverpool and was ‘Mondrian and his Studios’ complete with the recreation of one of his studios in Paris. The exhibition had photos from various of his studios showing that he tended to convert the places he lived in into his art, painting them the same colours and having his paintings on the walls. It was possible to walk around in the recreated studio to get an impression of what it would be like for him to be working, in amongst his art works and big blocks of colour. I’ve taken the picture from the Tate website showing people looking around in the studio. What I learnt from this exhibition was that he worked on variations to the lines, the blocks of colour and edge of the painting so that the variation in different paintings is not just about the different arrangement of the blocks of colour. It’s interesting to speculate on the impact the place he lived had upon his development with the cityscape of Paris, with the buildings giving the straight lines and block shapes. He was always a fan of music and in his last painting we can see the impact the move to New York had upon him, as the Mondrian sites says, “boogie-woogie obviously had a profound impact on him. Nevertheless, the most important factor in the origin of this painting, and of the “mutation” in his art, must have been the experience of the daily rhythm of New York itself, the pulsating movement that animates Broadway, especially at night, and, in thorough keeping with the old principles of De Stijl, creates a harmony out of the opposition of contraries.”
Two Mondrian exhibitions but I thought you said you had been three times this year? Yes and the third was to a Tate gallery too but this time to the Tate Modern for the exhibition of Malevich. I didn’t really know anything about Kazimir Malevich before and it was not my intention to visit the exhibition before my 11 week visit to the UK. However the Margate exhibition had said that he was a big influence on Mondrian so after that I had to go. I went on my last day in the UK before returning to Strasbourg
He too started off painting landscapes but then influenced by what was happening in Paris with cubism and futurism in Italy his painting developed into a more abstract form like ‘the Scyther’ pictured. He developed further and in 1913 painted the Black Square which was what gained him fame. This time too there was a recreation (pictured) but this time it was of an exhibition from December 1915, ‘The Last exhibit of Futurist Painting 0.10’ of which only a photo remains. The original exhibit contained pictures from other members of the group Malevich was working with at the time although the recreation focused solely on his work. As in the original exhibit the Black Square is positioned in the corner high up. This is the position of an icon in Orthodox homes which has been suggested emphasising the ‘spiritual qualities’ of the painting or that it might have been a ‘provocative blasphemy’. He went on to paint other Suprematist works but returned to figurative painting although the influence of the abstraction and Suprematism were still obvious in them as can be seen in the painting.
The title for this piece comes from a musical reference as so many do. It is from the Brazilian group CSS and is the title of one of their songs. I saw them play at the venue around the corner and they were very good live. If you get the chance to see them then do.