Mondrian: The Painter Mispainted


Would Piet Mondrian be pleased to see kids walking around with his artwork plastered across their trainers? I don’t think so. Although I can see Nike’s attempted sense of tribute, I think it is an insulting over-simplification and commodification of Mondrian’s genius.

Would Mondian be pleased to see naked men walking around in his artwork? Very much so.

Forget everything we discussed last week about Moschino’s naked tie look. Here is the ultimate marriage of high art, fashion and nudity… Mondrian.

But jokes aside, I want to take a step back and consider Mondrian’s legacy. Has he been horrifically misappropriated by fashion designers of today?

In 1965, twenty years after Mondrian’s death, YSL was the first notable designer to incorporate his famous paintings of black stripes with block primary colour into a collection of clothing. Since then Mondrian’s neo-plastic designs have been ubiquitous, from wrapping paper to crockery to car adverts, and of course 2008 saw Nike’s Mondrian-homage trainers (pictured below).

Yet to be such an integral part of mainstream pop culture and consumerism was not necessarily part of the Dutch artist’s vision. Born in 1877, Piet Mondrian was an insular man who looked more like a chemist than an artist. He was arguably a sadomasochist too, known to paint until his hands blistered and to study his canvases closely until his eyes began to stream. He was a great thinker.

In 2009 people look at Mondrian’s work and say words like ‘uniformity’, ‘regularity’, ‘restriction’ and ‘simplicity’. They are wrong. They forget that Mondrian’s work was a vast rebellion against the uniformity of proportional representation, and an attack at fine art’s tendency to recreate scenes of nature. To Mondrian nature meant death and his paintings were a protest against it. He fled from fascism too: from Paris to London in 1938, and then London to New York in 1940.

David Sylvester wrote with brilliant insight of Mondrian’s paintings: “a straight line is infinitely extendable, and the open-ended space between two parallel straight lines is infinitely extendable”. As a colour theorist, Mondrian reacted against nature and used harsh, striking, very superhuman blocks of primary colour.

Art critics have compared Martin Creed’s 2001 Turner Prize winning piece “The lights go on and off” to Piet Mondrian. I disagree. I think if Mondrian was alive today he would be painting kitsch farmyards and romantic sunsets in a gut-rebellion to our bland and over-digested familiarity to minimalism.

Would Piet Mondrian be pleased to see kids walking around with his artwork plastered across their trainers? I don’t think so. Although I can see Nike’s attempted sense of tribute, I think it is an insulting over-simplification and commodification of Mondrian’s genius. Similarly, the YSL Mondrian-inspired dress engages with his work on a surface-level product-recognition plane, but fails to converse with his depth and resistance.

The white boxes in a Mondrian painting are not blank spaces, they are complex white brush-stroke arrangements, created laboriously and touching upon the perverse.

Which is why to paint the naked body in a Mondrian style… I think he would appreciate. The 'naked Mondrian look' dissipates the middle stages of business, misinterpretation and commerce. An advocation of nudity is a beautiful rebellion against authority and the radical proximity between the painter and the painted is just fantastic.

Anyone want to join me?



Below: One of Mondrian's 'lozenge' paintings from thw 1920s. A good example, in my opinion, of his taciturn, insular and intellectual approach to art. A million miles away from the invented, bold, happy-clappy fashion representation of Mondrian.

The Jack of Hearts is written by Jack Cullen

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