Still Life with Vase - Piet Mondrian 1910
Tableau 1 - Piet Mondrian 1921


Why did he Paint Abstract Pictures?

Piet Mondrian later paintings are not about something, they have no meaning, no objects in them. He wanted his paintings to be universal and to depict pure sensation. Mondrian believed that pure sensation could only be achieved by means of total abstraction. He argued that the palette had to be reduced to primary colours and black and white. The reason for this is based on the idea that light travels in straight lines, is made of 3 primary colours, no light produces black and the three light primaries produce pure white. He went further by saying that even the “hand” (brushstrokes) of the artist had to be disguised, otherwise, the work was still tainted by the natural world.

Mondrian was at the forefront of, and led, the Dutch movement known as De Stijl (The Style). The artists of De Stijl “advocated total abstraction in art in order to erase all traces of subjectivity – story, objects, nature etc..”

They wanted to erase, or at least bypass, the preconceptions in the minds of people and allow them to see and feel an uncontaminated art. In order to reach their goal of attaining pure sensation, the three-dimensional world had to be abandoned completely. From that point, around 1910 Mondrian went on to paint in his Neo-Plastic style, as described above. He would follow this plan almost exclusively, for the rest of his career. No use of overlapping was allowed, as that implied three-dimensional space.

Mondrian’s style used a flat, frontal view of a two dimensional plane – the flat surface of the painting – as it offered a greater purity. What resulted were paintings of straight black lines and colour blocks on a white ground. As Mondrian said: “The new plastic idea will ignore the particulars of appearance…natural form and colour…it should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour…in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour.”

He went on to say, “If unity is contemplated in a precise and definite way, attention will be directed solely towards the universal, and as a consequence, the particular will disappear from art as painting has already shown. For the universal cannot be expressed purely so long as the particular obstructs the path. Only when this is no longer the case can the universal consciousness (intuition, that is) which is at the origin of all art, be rendered directly, giving birth to a purified art expression.”
In other words by just getting rid of the natural world, objects and story or meaning from a painting, the painting could become pure abstraction, or pure sensation as he would put it.

It is for this very reason that nature had to be discarded. Without doing so, the path to pure sensation, as Mondrian saw it, was still blocked. In addition to the limited palette and non-objective form, a “dynamic rhythm” had to be created so the viewer could experience pure sensation. Through Mondrian’s right angles and his organisation of colours this was accomplished. These actions created tensions between the elements of the painting and kept the whole in equilibrium. His use of heavy lines in between the rectangular forms served to further unify by creating tensions between the rectangles and the lines themselves.

Check out my YouTube Channel for more ‘How to Draw’ and ‘How to Paint’ videos designed for beginners and children