PIET MONDRIAN

Pieter Cornelis Mondrian was born on March 7th 1872 in Amersvoort in central Holland and lived there for the first eight years of his life. He was the second child of four, with two brothers and one sister. His father Pieter Cornelis Sr. was headmaster of an elementary school, a gifted draftsman and amateur artist. Uncle Frits Mondrian was a self-taught painter and commercially successful, even the Russian court bought his work. As Piet Jr. progressed towards abstract art, he came into conflict with uncle Frits, which seems to have had something to do with Piet Mondrian signing his paintings with “Piet Mondrian” (instead of Mondriaan) from 1912 on.
The Mondrians, devout Calvinists, were an artistic family who painted and made music and Mondrian Sr. could afford a decent education for his four children. Early on Piet Jr. proved to have a talent for drawing. His father gave him drawing lessons and took his son to the countryside to sketch. Uncle Frits taught him the basics of painting.
As a teenager Mondrian was thoroughly educated in drawing and visited several schools. His education was complemented by a retired art-teacher Baet van Ueberfeldt. Mondrian Sr. intended his son to become a drawing teacher so that Piet would be able to make a living. Mondrian won his licences and was allowed to teach at primary and secondary schools. With his licences under his belt, having fulfilled his father’s demands, Piet Mondrian decided to become an artist, not a teacher, in 1892. His father could not afford an education at the National Academy of Art in Amsterdam, but Uncle Frits managed to obtain an allowance for Piet Mondrian; he was 20 when he moved to Amsterdam.
Mondrian Red Tree

There he studied either full time or attended evening classes and joined several artist’s societies where he exhibited his work, for the first time in 1893 (he was 21). He got some commissions, like a ceiling painting and he applied for several prizes, with varying degree of success. In 1903 (at 31) he won his first prize from the “Arti et Amicitae Society”. Traveling back and forth between Amsterdam and various parts of rural Holland he devoted practically all of his time to painting landscapes, first in the style of the “The Hague School”, then gradually more and more abstract, omitting details he regarded as irrelevant. The more abstract his work became, the more appreciation and recognition he gained from fellow artists and other forward thinking contemporaries, at the same time the more criticism he met, particularly from Dutch art critics, “This man is totally confused”. Particularly important were his trips to Domburg, a small town on an island, that was turned into an artist’s community by Jan Toorop, one of the leading Dutch artists then, not in the least because of his organizational flair. Toorop acted as the principle intermediate between the Dutch and French art communities and devoted much of his time to bringing artists together.
In 1909 Piet Mondrian joined a theosophical society, which not only meant a definitive break with the orthodox Christian believe-system of his parents, but also became the foundation of his thinking and the intellectual side of his art. In these years Mondrian begins to resemble Rasputin in appearance (at least I think so) and he meditates. Like many artists of his time, Mondrian can be regarded as a hippy “avant la letre”, although later his appearance changes again, making him a sharply dressed man, indistinguishable from your average stockbroker or bookkeeper. This change may be connected to his love of nature and the country, changing into a preference for the city.
In his work this translates into his initial interest in the quasi random and disorderly quality of nature (the way branches on trees grow, the shape and distribution of clouds), which then changes into his well known paintings that consist of horizontal and vertical lines, the horizontal representing femininity and the worldly, the vertical masculinity and the spiritual. In his neo-plasticism he aimed to create a balance between the horizontal and the vertical, in tune with the laws of the universe, as he saw them, and his theosophical believes.
Mondrian Grey Tree

Around 1909, 1910 his breakthrough came insofar that he came to be regarded as one of the leaders of the Dutch avant-garde, of course still getting bad journalistic criticism. In 1910 he became a full member of the jury of an art society. In 1911 he was exposed for the first time by the works of the cubists Braque and Picasso, at an exhibition in Amsterdam. It is assumed that this made him want to move to Paris, the center of French art and cubism. Arriving in Paris in 1912, he quickly became internationally famous with exhibitions in Paris and Berlin. Piet Mondrian lived in Montparnasse, near the Eiffel Tower and enjoyed the city, with it’s exhibitions, parties and night-life. He was an avid dancer, preferably with young women. Piet Mondrian sold little in Paris, but made a living copying famous paintings from the Louvre.
In 1914 World War I began. Piet Mondrian had returned to Holland to visit his father who was mortally ill. Trapped in Holland, Piet Mondrian would not see Paris for four years because of the war, his equipment and paintings still in Paris. His father died in 1915. In that year he moved to Laren, in Holland, which then was an artist’s community attracting artists like Van Der Leck and Van Doesburg. The latter founded a magazine called “De Stijl” (The Style) for which Piet Mondrian wrote a few articles. Van Doesburg brought together a group of artists that contributed to the magazine. They were of the opinion that artists, architects and sculptors should work together to create a new society that would be in tune with “the laws of the universe”. The art that went with it should be clear in form and spiritual, as opposed to earthly. Natural forms were earthly, straight lines and angles spiritual. Thus “it would not be impossible to create a paradise on Earth”, they said. Now De Stijl is known as an art movement, almost synonymous with the red, yellow and blue neo-plasticism paintings of Piet Mondrian.
Not feeling at home in Holland, Piet Mondrian returned to Paris in 1919, where he had a book published, called Le Néo-Plasticisme, containing his essays written for De Stijl and it was translated in German in 1925. In Paris he had some more exhibitions, joined an art group, but perhaps most importantly, he met the American artist Harry Holtzman in Paris, in 1934. Holtzman later enabled Piet Mondrian to go to America, where he had his finest years as an artist.
While in Paris, he painted the walls and furniture of his Paris apartment/studio white and decorated the walls with grey and red cartboard rectangles, as he was living within a painting of his.
During his years in Paris, Mondrian’s reputation as an international representative of abstract art grew, but with art-insiders particularly. His paintings still didn’t fetch high prices as they never would during his lifetime. Mondrian didn’t really seem to mind. He had fulfilled his artistic dreams.
After Hitler had come to power in 1933, Mondrian’s work was put on the list of “Entartete Kunst” (degenerate art). Presumably having learned from his experiences during World War I, in which he had to leave all his paintings in Paris, Mondrian left Paris in September 1938, before the German invasion. He lived for two years his London where he became befriended with artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. As the Germans increased pressure on England, Mondrian left London in September 1940, in the midst of the blitz.
On borrowed money, Mondrian arrived in New York in October 1940. Harry Holtzman had found and paid for his apartment and studio and introduced him to his friends. In New York Mondrian concluded his career with monumental works like “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” and (the unfinished) “Victory Boogie-Woogie”.
Mondrian Broadway Boogie Woogie

In 1944 (he was almost 72) Piet Mondrian died of pneumonia in a New York hospital.

This concludes this site’s biography of Piet Mondrian. The next part represents this author’s view on Piet Mondrian and his work.
Tribute to Piet Mondrian
One can arbitrarily divide Piet Mondrian’s work into two, the dividing line being his “Tree series”. Most first class artists would have been satisfied going on with painting trees the way Mondrian did. I can’t think of any other painting that conveys the soul of the Northern European landscape more deeply as his trees. Mondrian’s “Red Tree”, “Blue Tree” and “Grey Tree” are artistic masterpieces. Technically however, they look strangely insecure. With the “Red Tree” Mondrian seemed unable to render the foreground as convincingly as the rest. Two artists can arrive at the same point independently, but it seems likely that, like many artists of his generation, he was inspired by Vincent van Gogh while making the “Red Tree”. A serious artist who tries to “paint like Van Gogh” is in trouble, however. Van Gogh is one the greatest “composers” in the history of the visual arts. Composing in this context, is meant to represent the ability to fit a great many details together in the best possible coherence. Mondrian was a very able landscape artist, but to paint in Van Gogh’s expressive semi-abstract style is another matter. I hypothesize that Mondrian was overtaxed. The “Grey Tree” represents the limit (now in a cubist style) of how far Mondrian could go in creating a composition that is “spontaneously” painted, with semi-improvised brush-strokes.
It has been suggested that Mondrian pursued an abstract style to break with his domineering father, who was a draftsman and strict naturalist. One can always come up with some kind of Neo-Freudian speculation on another man’s mind; it seems more sensible to look for an artistic explanation, which there is, in my opinion.
Mondrian was, not commercially or socially, but artistically ambitious. He wanted to paint like the great, but ran into the limits of his ability. Mondrian could draw very well, he was well-trained and his drawings do not should show any signs of insecurity. “The whims of nature” can be captured with a pencil on paper, but painting adds other dimensions, such as color and the texture of the paint. Whether his presumed inability to render nature as he wanted is responsible for his growing dislike of nature, that developed during his life is an open question. Abstract painting however, has the advantage that it’s a more controlled environment. The abstract artist has a greater freedom to define his own artistic and technical parameters than the naturalist. Mondrian’s earlier neo-plastic works are compositionally quite simple, with carefully arranged rectangles, but with few details. In New York however, he created his “Boogie Woogie” paintings, which to my mind are among the best compositions of the 20th century. And thus Mondrian achieved his goal: to become one of the greatest painters in history.
While he had stretched his talent to the limit 20 years earlier, in the subsequent period he cleverly and intelligently developed a style that enabled him to circumvent his limitations and turn his career into an absolute success.

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Portrait of the artist: The life and art of Jackson Pollock

He was a drunk, a depressive and a wife-beater. Many say he was also a genius. As one of his paintings sells for a record $140m, David Usborne looks at the private side of ‘Jack the Dripper’

If he were alive today, Jackson Pollock, the American painter who electrified the art world with his eruptions of swirling lines and squiggles, would be puzzled by the news. How could it possibly be that one of his paintings – not a Picasso, a Gauguin or Van Gogh – has become the most valuable in history?

After all, not everyone has ever been quite convinced about Pollock and his genius, never mind that he was a drunk, a philanderer and a depressive. Isn’t it possible that you or I could splatter some paint around on an empty canvas and command an entire wall of the Museum of Modern Art with the result?

Miraculously, we don’t have to invest in tubes of paint to attempt such an experiment, or buy a house and barn in The Hamptons of Long Island in the wood-shingle style of the home occupied by Pollock and his artist wife, Lee Krasner, in the last years of his life. Rather, just click on the very cheeky website www.jacksonpollock.org and do your own drip painting with easy movements of your mouse.

So we can all be Pollocks now. But there is no arguing with the passion felt by some for the man whose demise came in a car crash in 1956 when he was only 44 years old (he was drunk at the time). The fascination with the man whom Time magazine dubbed “Jack the Dripper” at the time of his death only seems to get deeper.

Though it has yet to be confirmed by either party, a little-known Mexican financier named David Martinez has just shelled out $140m (£73.3m) for what is admittedly a very large Pollock painting named No. 5, 1948. The seller was David Geffen, the Hollywood mogul, and the price – at $4m per square foot – is assuredly the highest ever paid for a single work of art.

https://i2.wp.com/www.size7.net/blog/content/binary/Jackson%20Pollock%20Number%205,%201948.jpg

Pollock was not an artist who only became popular posthumously. Thanks in part to the patronage of the socialite collector and heiress Peggy Guggenheim, he was successful long before his death and even a bona fide celebrity of the art world. By the time he died, some critics were hailing him as one of the masters of 20th-century art. They even gave his style a name – abstract expressionism. The manner in which he created his works – by dripping and pouring paint onto the canvas – they called “action painting”.

There has never been much mystery about Pollock’s unusual mode of creation. Earlier in his career, his art was more representational, inspired in part by Picasso and the 20th-century muralists of Mexico. But in around 1947 – three years after he married Krasner and moved with her to Springs outside East Hampton – he embarked upon the drip series of works that made him a legend.

Nor have fans of Pollock ever had any illusions about the artist’s state of mental instability.An abuser of alcohol all his adult life, he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1938 while still living and working in lower Manhattan and was briefly hospitalised for depression. Thereafter, however, there were signs that Pollock’s personal and professional life might achieve some equilibrium. In 1943, Guggenheim gave him his first solo show at her Art of this Century gallery. In 1944, he married Krasner, who was already his long-time lover, and they bought the Springs house together. He was also undergoing intensive psychotherapy at the time – a process that many believe influenced the work of his most productive period in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Visitors to the wooden barn at Springs did not find the usual implements of the painter. Pollock had no easel and no stretched canvases. His signature works were created instead by the painter standing above canvases, or sometimes squares of fibreboard, laid on the barn floor. His brushes did not touch the surface but were used rather to swipe and gesticulate in violent motion.The results are his masterworks of tangled lines and swirls of which the painting just acquired by Mr Martinez is a leading example.

“My painting does not come from the easel,” he said. “I hardly ever stretch the canvas before painting. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. I continue to get further away from the usual painter’s tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.”

The process was one of intense concentration and, art scholars surmise, a frantic expression of his emotions and the fruit of his long sessions in psychotherapy. He called his works explosions of unconscious imagery. “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing,” he said. “It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc, because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.”

One person who was able to watch Pollock at work was the photographer Hans Namuth. One day in 1950 he arrived at Springs after arranging with the painter to take pictures of him in the barn. On his arrival, he was put out to find Pollock standing over a canvas in the barn that apparently was already done.

“A dripping wet canvas covered the entire floor,” he later recalled. “There was complete silence … Pollock looked at the painting. Then, unexpectedly, he picked up can and paint brush and started to move around the canvas. It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished. His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance-like as he flung black, white, and rust-coloured paint onto the canvas. He completely forgot that Lee and I were there; he did not seem to hear the click of the camera shutter … My photography session lasted as long as he kept painting, perhaps half an hour. In all that time, Pollock did not stop. How could one keep up this level of activity? Finally, he said ‘This is it’.”

The first of these new drip paintings won public exposure at a solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in Manhattan in 1948. The show was an instant sensation and a sell-out. Pollock moved to a larger studio in East Hampton. He was profiled in Life magazine in 1949 as possibly “the greatest living American artist” and in 1950 he produced a series of six paintings for which he remains most famous. At the same time, he appeared to be winning his battle with alcoholism, intermittently staying dry.

The stability did not last long, however. By the early 1950s, Pollock was drinking again, frequently violent towards his wife, and unable to repel repeated bouts of depression. He also failed to be faithful. When he crashed his car, an Oldsmobile convertible, on 11 August 1956, killing himself and another passenger, Edith Metzger, the survivor was his girlfriend of the time, Ruth Kligman.

During his life, Pollock turned out an estimated 350 paintings, some in the drip style and others, from earlier in his career, still abstract but bearing some degree of representation. Arguably, the current cult of Pollock worship was born the day one of his paintings sold for the highest amount of money ever paid for a single piece. That was back in 1973, when the National Gallery of Australia paid $2m for his 1952 painting Blue Poles. The artist was in the headlines again in 2004, when a collector paid $11.7m for one of his paintings.

If Pollock’s popularity is ever to fade away, there are surely no signs of it yet. In 2000, a much wider public became aware of his work and of his turbulent life with the release of the film, simply named Pollock, directed by Ed Harris, who also played the title role.

In theory, all the remaining works of Pollock were sold by his own gallery upon his death. But even today our intense interest in him is periodically reignited with the discovery of new works that were previously unknown. Most famously, in 2003 a New Yorker named Alex Matter declared that he had fallen upon three dozen previously hidden Pollocks in a storage locker in Manhattan that contained the belongings of his late father, Herbert Matter, a photographer and designer who was a long-time friend of the painter and Lee Krasner. Herbert Matter died in 1984, two years before Krasner also passed away.

The 36 works – two dozen paintings and another 12 sketches – remain at the centre of a furious debate as to their provenance. The Straus Centre for Art Conservation at Harvard University is expected to declare within weeks its own judgement on their authenticity. Meanwhile, they are being shown publicly for the first time by Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York.

Then last month, an auctioneer cataloguing the belongings of a wealthy woman in Wisconsin found a picture that also bears the hallmarks of Pollock’s drip-painting style. Moreover, the owner, Lynn Anderson, a renowned architect who is incapacitated and unable herself to explain the history of the painting, had written this note on its reverse: “Bought in New York in 1959 or 60” and the name “Jackson Pollock”.

Even though the auctioneers made no attempt at authentication nor offered any guarantees as to whether it was real or fake, it was bought by Bill Kolb, an artist from Texas, for $53,000. “I’ve been looking at [Pollocks] for 40 years,” he said. “My gut tells me this is real.” Such is the power of Pollock’s pull on our imagination even the possibility of owning one of his pieces has now become a five-figure prize. For his $140m, however, Mr Martinez has a Pollock about which there is surely no doubt at all.

Taken from The Independent

Herbert Bayer

Bayer apprenticed under the artist Georg Schmidthammer in Linz. Leaving the workshop to study at the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony, he became interested in Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus manifesto. After Bayer had studied for four years at the Bauhaus under such teachers as Wassily Kandinsky and László Moholy-Nagy, Gropius appointed Bayer director of printing and advertising.

Charting Space

In the spirit of reductive minimalism, Bayer developed a crisp visual style and adopted use of all-lowercase, sans serif typefaces for most Bauhaus publications. Bayer is one of several typographers of the period including Kurt Schwitters and Jan Tschichold who experimented with the creation of a simplified more phonetic-based alphabet. Bayer idesigned the 1925 geometric sans-serif typeface, universal, now issued in digital form as Architype Bayer which bears comparison with the stylistically related typeface Architype Schwitters.

In 1928, Bayer left the Bauhaus to become art director of Vogue magazine’s Berlin office. He remained in Germany far later than most other progressives, and did work for the Nazi Party. In 1936 he designed a brochure for the Deutschland Ausstellung, an exhibition for tourists in Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games – the brochure celebrated life in the Third Reich, and the authority of Hitler. In 1938 he left Germany and settled in New York City where he had a long and distinguished career in nearly every aspect of the graphic arts.

In 1946 Bayer relocated again. Hired by industrialist and visionary Walter Paepcke, Bayer moved to Aspen, Colorado as Paepcke promoted skiing as a popular sport. Bayer’s architectural work in the town included co-designing the Aspen Institute and restoring the Wheeler Opera House, but his production of promotional posters identified skiing with wit, excitement, and glamour. Bayer would remain associated with Aspen until the mid-1970s. Bayer gave the Denver Art Museum a collection of around 8,000 of his works.

In 1959, he designed his “fonetik alfabet”, a phonetic alphabet, for English. It was sans-serif and without capital letters. He had special symbols for the endings -ed, -ory, -ing, and -ion, as well as the digraphs “ch”, “sh”, and “ng”. An underline indicated the doubling of a consonant in traditional orthography.

Bayer’s works appear in prominent public and private collections including the MIT List Visual Arts Center.