Fancy going inside Mondrian’s studios at the Tate Liverpool?
As one of my favourite modern artists, a trip around the great man’s work space promised to be an intriguing proposition. And it didn’t disappoint.
This week is your last chance to visit Mondrian and his Studios at the Tate Liverpool. The highlight of the exhibition is a reconstruction of the artist’s studio at 26 Rue du Depart in Paris, as it was in 1911.
Once inside, it’s surprising how the experience sheds new light on Mondrian’s obsession with lines, geometry and colour.
Red, yellow and blue
The Dutch painter was one of the most important abstract artists of the 20th Century. He’s best known for his bold planes of red, yellow and blue.
Mondrian is one of those modern painters whose work is instantly recognisable. So it’s intriguing to see his works in the setting of his studio, albeit a reconstruction.
One surprise is that Mondrian’s studio in Paris almost seems to become part of his art. For the first time, I also appreciated the importance of architecture in Mondrian’s artistic vision.
I hadn’t fully understood that Mondrian saw art and architecture as intertwined elements. For him, painting wasn’t something that simply hung on the wall of a house or office. It was a crucial part of the life of that building.
The great Dutchman told the British artist Winifred Nicholson that “the studio is also part of my painting”.
Wandering around the studio space, it’s easy to see why. Every plane is like an extension of the lines in his paintings. Even the furniture with its simple edges looks like it could be a 3-D version of Mondrian’s art.
Looking at an old photograph, it’s surprising how much Mondrian looks like an architect in his formal pin-striped suit and tie. His serious round, black glasses also suggest a designer rather than a bohemian artist.
It’s amazing but there’s only a couple of round shapes in his studio, showing just how much Mondrian loved straight lines. A round clock and his curvaceous pipes are amongst the only curvy features.
Mondrian loved grids – and they’re everywhere in the three studios where he worked throughout his career.
The Tate show features films and photographic images of Mondrian’s New York and London studios.
Once again, they are like one of his paintings, full of lines and bold colours.
But for me, it’s the paintings which shout out loudest and grab my attention in the later rooms in this show.
There’s a great selection of Mondrian’s abstract art from early forays into modernism to his iconic grid paintings.
An early work of crosses and slashed lines called Composition in Line (1916) is a work inspired by nature.
Another painting – The Tree – also reduces nature to a series of lines, almost like an architectural drawing of a building.
After this, things get a lot more geometrical and grid-iron in style.
In his later works, there’s barely a curved line to be seen – the linear is king!
Squares of colour
One of the great joys of Mondrian’s work is his colour, whether shown in fine symmetrical lines or in larger blocks.
I love the way he reduces his palette down to three basic primary colours. Blue, red and yellow are the key colours in his paintings.
In 1921 Mondrian decided to pare his colours back to the ‘big three’.
Black also remained a constant line colour. White was the background or base layer.
This led to purely abstract works including his striking Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue, painted in the same year as he moved into the Paris studio.
This began a whole series of line paintings with small blocks of colour filling small squares.
One of my favourites is this composition (pictured opposite) with blocks of yellow, blue and red hedged in by black lines.
Sometimes I wonder if Mondrian’s fascination for lines has a strong connection to the flat, rectilinear landscapes of Holland’s farmland?
Later on, when Mondrian was living in the USA, his lines became synonymous with an aerial view of New York’s street grid-iron street patterns.
Sadly, one of Mondrian’s greatest works, Broadway Boogie-Woogie, isn’t on display in this show but you’ll find it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The power of geometry
So why a passion for three primary colours?
Mondrian’s love of strong, bright colours is perhaps a reaction to the pastel colours of previous art movements like Impressionism.
One of the fascinating things I discovered in the exhibition was that Mondrian used to place blocks of colour up and down his studio walls in London and New York.
His studios almost became large rehearsal spaces for his paintings with rectangles of colour spanning across every wall.
There’s something compelling about Mondrian’s bold vision.
He even had a great name for it – neoplasticism!
This flat-as-a-pancake abstract art was a radical departure for its time.
Its brothers-in-arms were Mondrian’s fellow De Stijl painters and Russian precursors like Malevich.
Mondrian’s new plastic painting has also been incredibly influential in modern design, something which isn’t covered in depth in the Tate show. A bit of a missing link, if I’m honest.
Fashion designer Yves St Laurent designed his Mondrian day dress in 1945 complete with stripes and small blocks of colour.
In recent years, The White Stripes referenced Mondrian’s style on the cover of their album, De Stijl. It’s an interesting link because Mondrian’s art was heavily influenced by music.
He loved the boogie woogie jazz music of his time which is reflected in the rhythms of his New York paintings.
In 2013 fashion house, Alexander McQueen, designed a summer collection inspired by Mondrian and other modernist painters.
It’s proof that Mondrian’s influence still continues to hold sway today.
The Tate gallery is also running an exhibition by Nasreen Mohamedi alongside the Mondrian show.
Although the Indian artist has a connection with Mondrian in terms of his fascination with lines, I was slightly confused about how these two exhibitions worked together.
This was perhaps because the Mondrian show flows somewhat unexpectedly into the Mohamedi exhibition with little explanation.
A little deft curation may have helped here.
The Mondrian and his Studios show at the Tate is a must if you’re within striking distance of the North West of England.
The great modern painter Paul Klee once described painting as “taking a line for a walk”. In Mondrian’s case, the artist is taking a whole series of lines and primary colours on a stroll. A journey of geometric discovery.
When it comes to colour and geometry, there’s no denying that Mondrian is the master. Geometry has never been such fun.
Tammy’s guide to Mondrian
The Mondrian and his Studios exhibition continues at the Tate Liverpool until Sunday, 5 October 2014. There’s an admission price to this temporary exhibition.
Tate Liverpool is located within the Albert Dock complex on the Liverpool waterfront. Car parking is located nearby. The gallery is open daily 10:00-17:50. Twitter – @tateliverpool
Other good places to see art works by Piet Mondrian include:
- The Museum of Modern Art, New York
- The Kroller Muller Museum, Arnhem, Holland
- The Gemeente Museum , The Hague, Holland
- The Guggenheim, New York
- The Tate, London
Credits – Images from the Mondrian exhibition are courtesy and copyright of the Tate, Mondrian/Holtzman Trust, Museum Folkwang Essen, Netherlands Institute for Art History and the Kroller Muller Museum.
© Tate Photography, 2014.
© 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA