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Why Paint Squares? (or a Bit About Piet Mondrian)

June 24, 2014

This post was supposed to go live at the beginning of June, just before my computer decided it needed a break. To be honest it’s a miracle I got a chance to finish it, as when computers go wrong, they go wrong… I’m typing, but everything feels so fragile at the moment – I guess I’m worried the screen will go blank all of the sudden once again.

Anyway, I was looking for something on the internet and came across some really beautiful paintings. They had been painted by Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944), who is best known for his abstractions or red, yellow and blue squares, separated from the white background by black lines. Don’t tell me you’ve never seen this painting (or at least a similar one)?

Composition C (No.III) with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935

Composition C (No.III) with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935

Apparently “in his best known paintings from the 1920s, Mondrian reduced his shapes to lines and rectangles and his palette to fundamental basics pushing past references to the outside world toward pure abstraction. His use of asymmetrical balance and a simplified pictorial vocabulary were crucial in the development of modern art, and his iconic abstract works remain influential in design and familiar in popular culture to this day.” (The Art Story)

I have nothing against modern art, it can be entertaining (I use this word as quite often modern art is created with just one aim – to surprise or even shock), yet I love proper paintings, that seem to have a soul. So there’s a question for you – why paint squares when you can do so much better!?

Nature died with Sunflower, 1907

Nature died with Sunflower, 1907

Still Life with Gingerpot, 1911

Still Life with Gingerpot, 1911

Anemones in a Vase

Anemones in a Vase

Wood with Beech Trees

Wood with Beech Trees

Farm Sun

Farm Sun

Flowers Sun

Flowers Sun

Schinkelbuurtje Sun

Schinkelbuurtje Sun

“To approach the spiritual in art, one will make as little use as possible of reality,
because reality is opposed to the spiritual.”
Piet Mondrian

Not sure I’d agree with this… but if this philosophy led to the famous squares, so be it.

— — —

Short Biography:

“Piet Mondrian was born in Amersfoort in the Netherlands, in 1872. He was the second of his parent’s children. At a very young age his father Pieter and his Uncle Fritz, both artists themselves, introduced Piet to the world of art.

In 1892, Mondrian entered the Academy for Fine Art in Amsterdam as a qualified teacher. While teaching at the academy he also practiced his painting. Most of his paintings from this period were of landscapes. These pastoral images of Holland included fields, cows and windmills. These paintings were representational, and show the influence that the pointillist (painting with dots) and fauvist (vivid colors) movements had on him.

While Mondrian’s early works represented the world he saw around him, his discovery of Cubism in 1911 guided him toward pure abstraction. … Mondrian eagerly absorbed the Cubist style, though he seemed to know that this was only a stepping stone on his way to finding his own unique style. Mondrian continued to explore abstract forms eventually developing a style of painting he called neo-plasticism.

Mondrian returned to Paris when the war ended. It was there that he painted one of his most famous paintings, Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue (1921), a painting composed of primary colored rectangles on a grid of black lines. In the years that followed, he continued to eliminate “non-essentials”, limiting his works to these “basic forms of beauty.”

Piet Mondrian died of pneumonia in New York City on Feb. 1, 1944. His paintings became so famous in the decades that followed that other painters, advertisers, architects, graphic designers, and even high fashion clothing designers around the world copied his distinctive style.” (Art Library)

— — —

Images for this post were found on WikiPaintings.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2014 7:25 pm

    Great post.

  2. June 24, 2014 9:03 pm

    HI K, nice post. And good question. If you google Mondriaan’s tree series, you can see how he grew organically into abstraction. IT is quite exciting to see that the squares didn’t just appear, but were the culmination of a gradual process of increasing abstraction. This link shows it fairly clearly: http://emptyeasel.com/2007/04/17/piet-mondrian-the-evolution-of-pure-abstract-paintings/
    cheers, S

  3. June 25, 2014 8:38 am

    fascinating evolution from realism to cubism (sarah’s link is informative) – I wonder if any artist does it the other way around. Mondriaan’s squares seem more motif/statement than art but that is where I depart company from those who think my view is naive. [glad the computer held up to post this great post]

  4. PhilipMac permalink
    June 7, 2015 5:37 pm

    Well, Mondrian’s abstract paintings certainly left little heritage in terms of painting but his work inspired decades of design, furniture and architecture….and is influential even today. But I am biased – I love abstract (good) abstract painting. BTW thank you for the ‘like’ on my blog…!

    • June 12, 2015 6:40 pm

      Thank you, Phil, for leaving this comment. I loved how you replied to my question about Mondrian’s squares (and I do agree with you).

      I also like good abstract art, yet if I had to choose between good still-lives or landscapes and good abstract pieces I’d (probably) go for the usual rather than the unexpected. Mondrian is well know for his squares and lines, so I was really surprised when I saw his other artworks – they are brilliant. Kristina

  5. June 25, 2015 10:21 am

    Hi Kristina, that was a very interesting post and I think that I agree with you about Mondrian’s squares. I liked his theories and how he kept developing his work but I have to say that the eventual results of the process were (should I say it) – disappointing. However, he was trying something new, that nobody else had done before and that was very courageous, I think. The pressure! Can you imagine his mother saying to him: “Would you not go back to those nice landscapes you used to do 🙂

  6. September 19, 2015 5:56 pm

    I love Mondrian’s squares and I’m working on an homage to him. What do you think of Rothko? I just saw one of his in person yesterday and I really love it. They seem to provide a space for my spirit to be. I can paint in a photo realistic style but it feels like torture to me. For me art is about creating beauty from my experience – that may not look like anything representational to you or not even particularly beautiful to you. I am so grateful to the brave souls who forged such interesting paths through modern art. Thank you for the interesting discussion.

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