Mondrian's work is currently on display in two of the UK's celebrated art galleries - the Turner Contemporary in Margate and the Tate Liverpool. Earlier this summer I visited the Mondrian exhibition at the Turner Contemporary and shared my thoughts in my May post. I was eager to continue my summer of colour with a visit to Tate Liverpool and wasn't disappointed with my visit.
The Mondrian and his studios exhibition focusses on the period leading up to World War 2 which saw Mondrian move his home and studio four times in as many years. Learning from his confinement in the Netherlands before World War 1, Mondrian didn't want to be trapped again. His later years saw him spend time in London, Paris and New York in order to protect his work.
The exhibition does two things very well - first it gives you a real sense of the tiny, sparely decorated spaces in which he lived and worked through videos and photography and secondly it gives you a sense of the extent to which the coming war was affecting Mondrian.
Tate Liverpool, have recreated Mondrian's studio / apartment in Paris so you can experience the restricted environment Mondrian worked and lived in. Alongside the many works of art, there are video images of his workspace in London and photographs and paintings from two different rooms in New York. None of the rooms he spent time in could be called spacious but all were dominated by his colour blocks - varying sizes hung across the white walls of his apartments and reflected in his art work. The displays, to me, show how Mondrian's life appeared to have been overtaken with his devotion to, even obsession with, neo-plasticism (the term he used to describe his work).
As time drew on, and as Mondrian embraced the boogie woogie jazz music of the USA, his work became more relaxed - less of the colour was boxed in by the black lines. You may not be surprised to hear that this colour blocking put me in mind of David Batchelor's Chromolocomotion at St Pancras - he uses many of the same colours as Mondrian - yellow, orange, blue, and pale blue for example. Batchelor's colours turn corners though - L shaped where Mondrian has squares and oblongs.
The brush strokes and the layering of paint in the Mondrian paintings is clear. Reaching a conclusion on his works clearly didn't come easily. Some of the artworks on display are known as "transatlantic" as Mondrian gave them two dates - the first when he started on them in Europe and the second when he completed the work in New York.
The imminent war pervades the personal letters he wrote to friends. He refers frequently in those letters to the social and political environment of the time. In Liverpool the view from the window of the Tate provides further thought provoking stuff. The view is of Carlos Cruz-Diez's dazzle ship for 1418 NOW and the Liverpool Biennial. The ship sits in the Albert Dock and reminds us of the horrors of the first and second world wars at sea. It is painted with lines in green, orange, black and red. The original dazzle ships were painted to create optical illusions which would alter the ship's shape and hence obscure its' movement providing protection from submarines. (Londoners can see Tobias Rehberger's 1418 NOW black, white and red dazzle ship on the Victoria Embankment.)
The exhibitions in Margate and Liverpool taken together show the genius of the Mondrian work. A life obsessed with colour, the evolution of the idea as his life moved forwards (whilst expressing a never ending hope for mankind despite the horrors going on all around him) and the sense of harmony delivered in the finished works.