An explanation of Piet Mondrian's work by Michael Sciam

Neoplasticism – Part 3

The lozenge compositions

Along with the rectangular canvases, throughout the 1920’s Mondrian worked also on a series of compositions developed on a lozenge format.

Lozenge Composition with Red, Black, Blue and Yellow, 1925, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 17
Lozenge Composition with Red, Black, Blue and Yellow, 1925, Oil on Canvas, cm. 77 x 77

The choice of this format gives greater breadth to the composition. It makes it possible to use lines of various lengths.

Tableau N. 1, Lozenge with Three Lines and Blue, Gray and Yellow, 1925, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 18
Tableau N. 1, Lozenge with Three Lines and Blue, Gray and Yellow, 1925, Oil on Canvas, cm. 80 x 80

New relations of tension are established between the orthogonal planes and the diagonal sides of the painting.

Schilderij N. 1, Composition with Two Lines and Blue, 1926, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 19
Schilderij N. 1, Composition with Two Lines and Blue, 1926, Oil on Canvas, cm. 84,9 x 85

The four corners of the lozenge generate a centrifugal energy and seem to expand the plane of the canvas along its two median axes.

Composition 1, Lozenge with Four Lines, 1930, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 20
Composition 1, Lozenge with Four Lines, 1930, Oil on Canvas, cm. 75,2 x 75,2

More dynamic

The lozenge therefore already seems in itself a way to make the equivalence of opposites, i.e. the square, more dynamic.

On observing the four lozenges we note how a closed area nearing the proportions of a square (first lozenge) opens up (second and third) while in the fourth one a closed square re-appears which consists of lines which assume variable thickness. On the one hand an open square area extends with the lines toward a virtually infinite space (the finite opens up to the infinite; the one opens up to the many) and on the other hand a renewed closed square is made of a relative multiplicity through lines varying in thickness. In both cases, the one interacts with the many. Once again, Mondrian seeks in these works to open and expand the square while maintaining its visibility at the same time.

A synthesis of all the lozenges

We shall now examine Lozenge with Yellow Lines which constitute a synthesis of all previous compositions of this type.

Lozenge with Yellow Lines, 1933, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 21
Lozenge with Yellow Lines, 1933,
Oil on Canvas, cm. 80,2 x 79,9

The more important innovation is obviously the fact that, for the first time, the lines are no longer black but yellow. The field is uniformly white and the yellow shape almost appears to be born out of the white rather than in opposition to it, as in the case of the black.

Lozenge with Yellow Lines, 1933, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 21

Yellow is an intermediate value between black and white, sufficiently dark to be differentiated from white but, at the same time, not so radically opposite as black. The opposite values now seem communicate and achieve unitary expression in terms both of form and of color, with horizontal and vertical simultaneously present for an instant in every line and the synthesis of black and white in an intermediate color, which yellow appears to constitute in this case. On observing this square and contemplating the differing thickness of the lines, we are faced with a unity undergoing transformation from one side to the other; a synthesis that already appears comparatively manifold in itself. We perceive a unity that tends to become rather than to be. It endures but changes at the same time; a square that is open, dynamic, asymmetric, and entirely expressed by color.

One and the same thing

This composition goes to the heart of the problem: to show the manifold in unitary form; to open up unity, i.e. the postulate of consciousness, to the changing aspect of the natural universe and existence in time but without losing sight of it. Once again we recall the fundamental issue: The one and the many appear as antithetical realities in the human dimension; in actual fact, they are one and the same “thing”.

Composition with Yellow, Red, Black. Blue and Gray, 1920, Piet Mondrian
1920
Composition en Rouge, Bleu et Jaune, 1930, Piet Mondrian
1930
Composition 1 with Red and Blue, 1931, Piet Mondrian
1931
Composition with Blue and Yellow, 1932, Piet Mondrian
1932

The dialectic between unity and multiplicity continued throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. The single white square field (1920) took on color, underwent duplication while opening up on one or two sides (1930). A closed square developed out of the dynamic continuity of the lines around 1931: the square is sometimes more horizontal, sometimes more vertical; sometimes larger, sometimes smaller; sometimes blue, sometimes yellow. The single square of 1920 gradually gave way to a variety of probable square forms. Unity and multiplicity tended to interpenetrate.

In actual fact, the square opened up and interpenetrated with the variety of forms and colors in the rectangular canvases while seeking in the lozenge compositions to absorb that variety with no extensive change to itself. In the first case, the square opens up in the direction of multiplicity; in the second, the square absorbs multiplicity while remaining substantially one:

Lozenge Composition with Red, Black, Blue and Yellow, 1925, Piet Mondrian
1925
Composition 1, Lozenge with Four Lines, 1930, Piet Mondrian
1930
Lozenge with Yellow Lines, 1933, Piet Mondrian
1933

In this phase Mondrian is like a composer who gradually reduces the orchestra to a solo instrument, an almost imperceptible sound that can still be varied in an effort to express the whole. In a white field crossed by four black lines, the thickness of a line can also serve in a space moving toward ever-greater synthesis to calibrate the weights and influence the overall economy of the composition.

These lozenge compositions constitute the moment of greatest correspondence between the one and the many

Study of Trees 1, 1912, Piet Mondrian
1912
Composition II, 1913, Piet Mondrian
1913
Checkerboard Composition with Light Colors, 1919, Piet Mondrian
1919

As Michel Seuphor puts it in his beautiful biography of Mondrian: “Sometimes he thinks he has found it. So he stops, observes the work, and says: It’s done. But the clock of his life keeps on ticking and is already driving him forward. He soon realizes that nothing is done and everything has to start all over again.”