Piet MondrianWe are all aware of Picasso's "invention" of Cubism and how he and Georges Braque collaborated to explore its new way of analysing masses. And we're mostly aware of where it led them, to a "constructive" reassembling of those masses into a flattened, collage-like Cubism since labelled "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 its ultimate end--pure abstraction--no recognisable subject matter. Proceeding as it were, from banana splits, to parfaits, to milk shakes.
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 distil a given subject to its most basic forms. His earliest work centred upon landscapes and particularly trees, which, in their infinite variety he found endlessly fascinating. 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, whites or primary colours. Short of the white-on-white canvases of Russian-born Kasimir Malevich, Mondrian went further than any other artist in simplification to the point that even the term abstraction fails to contain the essence of his work.
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 its 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 colour 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 chequered 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, but his legacy is still alive and well in much of what we take for granted in the commercial designs of our popular culture today.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
8 April 1998