An explanation of Piet Mondrian's work by Michael Sciam

Neoplasticism – Part 4

Merging together square and lines

Black opens to white

Composition B with Double Line, Yellow and Gray, 1932, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 1
Composition B with Double Line, Yellow and Gray, 1932, Oil on Canvas, cm. 50 x 50

This composition presents an area of square form closed on four sides in the lower right section. The square field expresses a moment of equilibrium between the opposing directions, which elsewhere give birth to variable proportions and then expand in a univocal and absolute way (in exclusively horizontal or vertical terms) beyond the canvas toward infinite space. The large yellow field in the upper left section and the gray one lower down to the right help to keep the square in a state of unstable equilibrium.

Fundamental message

Composition in Black and White with Double Lines, 1934, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 2
Composition in Black and White with Double Lines, 1934, Oil on Canvas, cm. 59,4 x 60,6
Fig. 2a
Composition in Black and White with Double Lines, Diagram

A relationship is established between a small square of sharply defined and definite size appearing in the center and a larger indefinite square placed in the lower section, which could almost be seen as the smaller one an instant after the lines have passed. By adopting a dynamic vision different parts of the composition become successive moments of one and the same element undergoing transformation. The dynamic movement of the lines drags along the small central square, which opens up while remaining in unstable equilibrium between vertical and horizontal predominance. Another way to open unity to multiplicity, certainty of the square form to the uncertain.

Only by adopting a dynamic vision of reality we shall be able to interpret the temporary imbalances and asymmetries of our daily life as necessary fragments of a much wider picture where a universal balance is to be found. A picture, however, daily life does not show us at once. Every situation in life which appears as an obstacle today may become part of a unitary, more balanced process tomorrow. Every opposition may turn to our advantage in the course of time. This is one of the fundamental messages of the Neoplastic geometry.

Increasing multiplicity

The two horizontal lines running through the previous canvases become four in Composition with Yellow (Fig. 3):

Composition B with Double Line, Yellow and Gray, 1932, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 1
Composition B with Double Line, Yellow and Gray, 1932
Composition in Black and White with Double Lines, 1934, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 2
Composition in Black and White with Double Lines, 1934
Composition with Yellow, 1936, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 3
Composition with Yellow,
1936
Composition with Yellow, 1936, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 3
Composition with Yellow, 1936, Oil on Canvas, cm. 66 x 74

The field inside the square form is no longer white here but yellow and presents a vertical segment echoed by an external horizontal segment in the lower section. The square form appears in a state of unstable equilibrium between an internal vertical and an external horizontal. In this respect, one should recall that Mondrian saw the vertical as a symbol of the spiritual (inner world) and the horizontal as a sign of the natural (outer world). The linear segments seems designed to indicate the beginning of a process of interpenetration between square and lines.

Composition N. 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Piet Mondrian
Composition N. 12 with Blue,
1937-42, Oil on Canvas, cm. 60,5 x 62

According to Joosten-Welsh Catalogue Raisonné Composition with Blue was first begun in 1937, left unfinished and re-worked between 1937 and 1942 with the addition of N. 12 to the title.

Thirteen black lines intersect in the central field of the canvas and form a large number of white planes. Areas of greater or lesser horizontal and vertical extension can be seen (Diagram A). Vertical and horizontal attain equivalence in some points to form smaller or larger squares:

Composition N. 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 4
Composition N. 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Oil on Canvas, cm. 60,5 x 62
Composition 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Piet Mondrian, Diagram B
Fig. 4a
Composition 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Diagram A

Space expands and contracts under the pressure of the two contending directions, which attain equivalence and a more stable equilibrium for an instant before opening up again to the more or less marked predominance of one or the other. Equivalences of opposite values are born and dissolve, are lost and found again in forms that are always new, without ever being fully attained. The idea of the square, i.e. an equivalence of opposites, seems to be expressed here too more as a process than a state.

The solid and definite square of the 1920s now appears to undergo dilution on contact with the lines. The latter interact to expand and contract the space, above all in the central area, outside which they become entities in their own right; all horizontals or all verticals, one thing excluding the other. The space becomes absolute and eliminates any possible relationship between the parts.

Composition N. 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 4
Composition N. 12 with Blue, 1937-42
Composition 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Piet Mondrian, Diagram B
Fig. 4b
Composition 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Diagram B

Composition N. 12 with Blue (Fig. 4) appears to offer a summary of all the compositions that Mondrian produced between 1927 and 1932 involving variations on the theme of the square. See here below four of these compositions consisting of a variety of proportions tending to approximate squares: 

Composition 1 with Yellow and Light Gray, 1930, Piet Mondrian

1930

Composition with Yellow, 1930, Piet Mondrian

1930

Composition with Blue and Yellow, 1932, Piet Mondrian

1932

Composition with Blue and Yellow, 1932, Piet Mondrian

1932

Composition N. 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Piet Mondrian
Fig. 4
Composition N. 12 with Blue, 1937-42
Composition 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Piet Mondrian, Diagram A
Fig. 4a
Composition 12 with Blue, 1937-42, Diagram A