Piet Mondrian (and the Geometry of the White Lodge)

I like the name Piet Mondrian. It is like an oval spheroid, self-saturated, self-contained, stabilising itself in his own harmony. A rippling, a wave, a self circuit that does not spread confusion or butterfly effects in the universe but that comfortably leads back again to its own start, to be explored again. Piet Mondrian. Indeed, Piet Mondrian was one of the leading proponents of making harmony great again in art. Look at the immersion of mind, progressively plunging into deep reality, to finally see the movement of primal/eternal forms, to give rise to new concepts and frameworks in order to communicate and understand reality, getting into closer touch with it! See how he starts as a naturalist painter, occasionally flirting with impressionism, portraying quiet nature or quiet people! Gradually the fire of deep reality litting eleven poplars, the woods near Oele, red cloud in the sky, devotie becoming more intense, apple trees becoming more semi-abstractly distinguished from as well as embedded in the background, the windmills as evocation of silent materiality increasingly on fire and finally a triumphant semi-abstract red mill (leading critics to denounce such paintings as „insane“)! In accordance to Mondrian´s thinking inspired by theosophy the evolution of (wo)man as a hypercycle! Then, in his peculiar adaption of cubism nature made of eccentric lines and curves, until the basic raster of reality of geometric lines finally breaks through (most perfect in Composition VI), then loosens its own grip (Composition 10), then becomes replaced by somehow moving rectangles/colour fields, until you finally have impersonal geometric grids (that would alienate critics and cubists from such an approach)! At that time and point of immersion, Mondrian was alienated from the art scene, devoid of success and unsure how to progress further (and he thought about giving up art and becoming a sailor then). With the help of friends he was lucky to find a humble but steady income nevertheless and in deep doubt how to progress further the final breakthrough happened into his signature paintings made of lines, rectangles and colour fields over white ground! Kind of „last paintings that can be made“ the possibilities of movement within such basic scenario are vivid; in the 1930s his paintings would often become even more minimalistic. In his final period, when he moved to London and eventually to New York, the geometry of New York would provide new inspirations, the grid becoming deep and threedimensional or vibrating in its own fractal intensity to the Broadway Boogie Woogie – the calm and calculated Mondrian also was a big fan of jazz and a vivid dancer, likely not only for Dionysian reasons but also as an adherent of the eccentric and moving/shifting geometry expressed in jazz (indeed, Mondrian was both an ascetic monk as well as a hedonist, in both respects at peace with himself and balanced in himself). As a theorist, Mondrian was an eminent and influential figure of the De Stijl movement (although it should be noted that other members of De Stijl like Theo van Duesburg and Bart van der Leck were very influential upon Mondrian). Like suprematism in Russia, De Stijl was striving for expression of harmony and perfection. In Mondrian´s understanding, art was not about the „self expression“ of an artist, but a striving for expressing that which is universal, and eternal (and therefore harmonious). As such, as a seeker for deep reality, who wants to see through things, in order to investigate the thing-in-itself, Mondrian was a metaphysical artist. At his time, Mondrian had to acknowledge that religion as the sphere of the universal had become superseded. Instead, a protean modern subject had come into power as well as an impersonal technology that facilitates, standardises and explosively increases productivity and the possibilities of man. Like other abstractionists, Mondrian saw abstraction as the possibility to express the metaphysics of a modern, industrialised age – but he hoped that within that process of amalgamation or dialectics, a more concrete subject would come into being, a man that is fully matured, who is able to reflect and internalise the forces of protean subjectivity and technology and is not alienated by them: that is, then, the new, and final universal (or, the overman, if you want). In order to master a transgression like this, art had to supersede to be spiritual by expressing the tragic of human experience but had to become intellectual via a purified intellect – and Mondrian´s artistic endeavours can be understood as an undertaking of purifying the intellect. In that respect, Mondrian also said his art was about the expression of pure relation and pure relationships between things (as, so to say, the network of reality). As, in reality, relationships between things can never be seen directly but only concealed, the task of the artist is to directly express those relationships: in the pure form, the relationship between the thing and the other thing is a square angle (and the emanations of reality colour fields). That is the primal geometry of the world (respectively the mind that looks at it). The Universal means the unification or concilliation of object and subject, respectively, as Mondrian deals with it, of the thing and the other thing. Harmony is established when object and subject, the thing and the other thing are reconciled. Like in the works of his fellow compatriot Vincent van Gogh, trees have been a prominent subject in the (earlier) paintings of Mondrian, allegedly symbolising the solitary artist, in his serenity and timelessness. While van Gogh can be said to have been a Dionysian painter, Mondrian was Apollonian. While Vincent´s letters were maniac and passionate, Mondrian´s self-reflection was expressed in the mode of calculated and methodological essays. While Vincent was expressing the sensational character of the world, or of his mind, directly, Mondrian expressed them indirectly. In the white ground of his paintings, where lines and surfaces are erected, you have the white noise of possibilities in which everything is contained …. Remember that I called the space where you are surrounded by white nebulaic light, where ideological and doctrinal segregation between things have broken down and you have pure and universal perception the White Lodge. And indeed, the White Lodge can also be seen as a space of the possibility of pure relations. It is the space of the beginning and the end, of the Alpha and Omega, where subject and object, the thing and the other thing are reconciled as waves within the continuum that is the White Lodge. Mondrian´s signature paintings can be understood as expressions of a white Nirvana, they can also be understood as expressing the geometry of the White Lodge.

Although he is considered the major Netherlandic painter of the 20the century, Mondrian remained relatively poor during his lifetime. He never married. When he happened to have success and his reputation increasing, he would perplex people and lose his reputation again as he would become more experimental again and moving to new territories. I find it very sad not to have found an extensive biography of him, but he also destroyed letters and traces from his past later in life as he became confortable with maintaining his image as an impersonal „art monk“ so that it seems a bit difficult to distinguish how much of this was motivated by constructing an image (which is, nevertheless, likely of a greater necessity also in the most venerable regions of human endeavour in order to make oneself a circulating unit) or simply the truest and the natural form of Mondrian himself. I have read elsewhere that there are no indications that Mondrian had a lot of humour, contrary to many humorists he never gave up his enduring optimism about the arrival of the universal man. Later in his life at peace he had been very much at peace with himself and he never gave up hope. In preparing this note I have read however that it would frequently happen that people reluctant or in opposition against Mondrian´s paintings sooner or later have an epiphany how harmonious and calming those paintings are, radiating inner peace. Art dealer Sidney Janis said in his career he had met only two artists who did „not feel compelled to defend their own vision against that of others“, who were vastly tolerant and balanced, therefore, in a way, im/transpersonalised truth seekers: One was Duchamp, the other one was Mondrian. In the valuable book „Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts“ (edited by Ingo F. Walther) the conclusion about Mondrian was that although his mature paintings seem to be easy, hardly any artist is more difficult to imitate or to forge than Mondrian. Of all the artists of De Stijl who were striving for harmony, Mondrian (they said) was the only one to have actually achieved it.