Master of the abstract becomes very real influence on design
IN 1938, the Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian, fled from mainland Europe fearing the rise and spread of Nazism and settled in London. By 1940, as the Blitz raged, his friends Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson urged him to move with them to Cornwall. He felt this was too close to occupied France for comfort so he “upped sticks” again and moved to New York. Had Barbara Hepworth decided to move to her native West Riding, Mondrian may have agreed to follow and Wakefield could now be the permanent home of his paintings.
Over many years, his style changed from naturalistic landscapes, to a more Cubist influenced period. After the First World War, he began to develop his more “neoplastic” pared down pictures of blocks of primary colours divided by vertical and horizontal black lines for which he is now best known
Art historians may explain this style as representing utopian ideals of spiritual harmony, but for Mondrian the sole purpose of art was the creation of beauty. His ingredients are form, line and colour and his pictures are pure abstractions, reducing landscapes to these basic elements.
Because they are so bold, it is not surprising that designers constantly “borrow” his visual concepts. Back in 1965, Yves Saint Laurent launched the “Mondrian Dress”. This simple shift was ideal for the strong colour blocks and any shaping could be cleverly hidden in the vertical grid lines. In the world of cosmetics, L’oreal unashamedly uses Mondrian’s signature works for its “Studio Line” collection.
In the home, Mondrian’s influence can be found in just about every room. Ceramic tiles are a natural backdrop for bold squares of colour separated by lines of black grouting. The images divided on a television’s split screen look like a movie version of a Mondrian painting. Even a perpetual calendar can be readily Mondrianised.
The colour choice and grid like construction of Rubik’s cube must surely be the most Mondrian-inspired puzzle ever created. The straight vertical lines and square or rectangular panels of colour appeal to our sense of order and the bright, primary colours stand out crisply and cheerfully. Hence his lasting appeal and relevance.
Ironically, Mondrian’s own attempts at design both for stage sets and the interior of his own apartment, were not successful and never widely adopted.
However, the continuing influence of his paintings on designers almost a century later is clearly profound.
Once again, this is clearly a case of the artist leading and the designers following behind.
A perpetual calendar and dress inspired by Mondrian.