Saturday, 21 April 2012

Mondrian - Nicholson: in parallel

Last weekend saw us climbing the stairs at the Courtauld Gallery which is a small gallery in the same complex as the much bigger Somerset House. The stairs seemed to go on and on forever and my chest was heaving by the time we got to the top but it was worth it to see this exhibition of Piet Mondrian and Ben Nicholson's work.

I first came across Mondrian's work as a teenager in an art history class at school back in the early '70s. Our teacher was cruising through many artists work that day showing examples on a slide projector. Mondrian was the only one who made an impression on me and I've been fascinated by his work ever since. I went on a sort of pilgrimage around Holland in the early '80s tracking down as many examples of his paintings as I could find on public display in Eindhoven, The Hague, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. So you could call me a fan of his.

I can't possibly do his work justice in this blog, as a very badly presented talk I gave about him at art school would confirm, so if you want to read more about him all I can suggest is you read Frank Elgar's book Mondrian published by Thames and Hudson. This was recommended to me by my head of department, Benno Zehnder as being the best book on the subject.

View from Corbridge. Heather James
My own art work is nothing like Mondrian's, in fact it is more like Ben Nicholson's, but I have always been drawn to Mondrian's very spare compositions of verticals and horizontals on a white background with the occasional use of red, yellow and blue. Looking at his work, for me, is akin to meditating and I am happy to return to it over and over again.

Piet Mondrian and Ben Nicholson met in the 1930s and at the time 'they were the leading forces of abstract art in Europe'. There was a 20 year age difference with Mondrian being the elder and their backgrounds were quite different. Their friendship was so dynamic that Mondrian moved to London in 1938 at Nicholson's invitation where they worked in neighbouring Hampstead studios. It sounds like it was a very productive and creative time for both of them and during this period Nicholson produced his series of white reliefs plus abstract painting.

Mondrian's stay in London was short lived and he moved to New York in 1940. By this time Nicholson and had moved to live in Cornwall with his wife Barbara Hepworth which marked the parting of the ways for these two great abstract artists.


Marta Szabo said...

I am catching up on your blog. Will look up both of these artists. As always, so happy to have you lead me into worlds that would otherwise be hidden to me.

Heather said...

I hope you like them as much as I do.