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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Piet Mondrian

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Piet Mondrian: March 7,1872-Feb. 1,1944...Holland

"I don't want pictures. I just want to find things out."

~Piet Mondrian

The first of the Geometric Abstraction artists that we will be looking at is the somewhat dry, Piet Mondrian. He was the second born of four children in his family. His dad, Pieter Cornelis Sr., was the principal of an elementary school as well as an amateur artist. His dad’s brother, Uncle Frits Mondriaan, was his first professional inspiration, being a commercially successful, yet, self-taught painter. The two brothers gave young Piet a nice beginning to his development as an artist. As a teenager Piet’s art development was taken on by retired art teacher Baet van Ueberfeldt. It was the intention of Piet to be trained so he could become an art teacher, the only way his father saw him being able to make a living as an artist. This is actually what he did. Mr. Mondrian was a primary and secondary school art teacher. In 1892, at the age of twenty, he gave up education to focus his energy on becoming a professional artist. "Intellect confuses intuition." With the help of his Uncle Frits, he would attend the National Academy of Art in Amsterdam.

As Mondrian was gaining his higher art education, he focused his artistic energies toward painting landscapes. As time passed, those landscapes got more and more abstracted as he would omit details. "The emotion of beauty is always obscured by the appearance of the object. Therefore the object must be eliminated from the picture." The more abstract he got the more attention he received. At the same time he was also receiving more criticisms of his works. His works of trees would evolve more and more into simple horizontal and vertical lines. Inspired by an exhibition of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, he chose to move to the art center of the world (at that date). In 1912 he moved to Paris, France and quickly became an internationally famous artist. Uncle Frits had two major issues with his nephew's artist career: he disliked the abstraction and, the more pressing issue, Piet began to sign his last name Mondrian instead of Mondriaan after 1912.

When World War I broke out in 1914, he was in Holland visiting his dying father. Obviously, he would not quickly be able to travel back to Paris. He made Laren, Holland (known as an artist community) a temporary home where he worked with artists like Bart van der Leck and Theo van Doesburg. As their friendship grew, van Doesburg began to assemble a group of artists that collaborated even began a magazine called "De Stijl" (The Style). “I construct lines and color combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness.” Eventually, the art movement that they created would also take on the title De Stijl and become synonymous with Piet Mondrian and his usually flat tinted red, yellow, and blue paintings.

Although Mondrian had deeply bonded with his fellow artists, he was driven, in 1919, to returned to Paris. There he met Harry Holtzman. An American artist, Holtzman would eventually aid Mondrian’s trip to America. Most feel that his trip to America was his finest experience was an artist. He came to the new center of the art world, New York, in October of 1940. Prior to this trip, he was placed in the degenerate art show by Adolph Hitler and fled Paris, before the German invasion, for London. As the Nazis put pressure in England, he borrowed money from Holtzman to get him into the United States. During this time he had quit the De Stijl movement because founder, Theo van Doesburg, began to introduce diagional lines and Mondrian wanted none of that craziness. “I believe it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true.” It was around this time that his style became known as neoplasticism. One of his greatest works created in America, as well as my personal favorite of Mondrian’s work, was Broadway Boogie-Woogie. The title reflects his love for the New York invented jazz piano style that was popular at this time. The colored lines replace the bold black lines in previous works. The placements of these patches of color resemble a street seen from above. It also reminds me of the classic 1980’s arcade game Frogger, with is blocky graphics and bright colors (minus the frog and the river…). "Every true artist has been inspired more by the beauty of lines and color and the relationships between them than by the concrete subject of the picture."

Broadway Boogie-Woogie
1942-43. Oil on Canvas. 4'2"X4'2". Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Working on a follow up work to Broadway Boogie-Woogie, Mondrian began work on his last work, Victory Boogie-Woogie, that would never be completed. Near the age of seventy-two, Piet Mondrian died of pneumonia at Murray Hill Hospital in New York and buried at the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. In his will, Piet disinherited his younger brother in favor of his young artist friend that helped bring him to America, Harry Holtzman, who was the sole heir to all his works. His works have inspired many artists of the future. One of the more unique examples of his influence was with fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent, who used Mondrian's art in his fall and winter collection in 1965 and 1966. "All painting – the painting of the past as well as of the present – shows us that its essential plastic means we are only line and color."

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063