An explanation of Piet Mondrian's work by Michael Sciam

An overview

After a large number of various still-lives, landscapes, human figures and single flowers, Mondrian worked at a series of landscapes which emphasize a marked horizontal expansion and at architectural volumes concentrating into a vertical space. While horizontal extension predominates in the landscapes and vertical development in the architectural volumes, the two opposing directions interpenetrate in the figure of a bare tree where they give birth to a balanced unity. “I was struck by the vastness of nature and I tried to express expansion, tranquillity, unityā€¯. (Mondrian):

Evening Sky with Luminous Cloud Streaks, 1907, Piet Mondrian
Study of Trees 1, 1912, Piet Mondrian

With the compositions that extend horizontally, the gaze opens to the immeasurable dimension of nature, while with the vertical architectures everything is concentrated towards the finite context in which man thinks, designs and builds to rise from a primitive condition of nature.

Mondrian wrote that the horizontal is a symbol of the natural and the vertical of the spiritual, that is to say, of what most distinguish mankind from the rest of nature. The existence of human beings is marked by the search for equilibrium between contradictory drives such as the natural instincts and what we call intellect, reason or mind, and hence opposition between a part of us that is closer to the natural world and another that separates us from it and often clashes with it. As we shall see in the next pages, the relationship between opposites suggest at the same time the relationship between outer nature and mankind and the relationship between inner human nature and consciousness. In both cases we talk about an interaction between infinite, manifold and ever-changing nature in relation to the quest for unity and durability invoked by the spiritual nature of man.