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15 Things You Should Know About Piet Mondrian

For his contribution to abstract art, Piet Mondrian is regularly regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. But there's much more to this Dutch painter than the seemingly simple lines and color blocks of his best-known works. 

1. Mondrian is celebrated as a founder of De Stijil. 

This Dutch art movement of the early 20th century translates to "The Style." De Stijil also referred to a group of artists and architects who pushed abstract art into focusing on simple forms like lines and blocks, painting in black, white, or primary colors only. Mondrian's fellows in this collective were Theo van Doesburg, Vilmos Huszár, Bart van der Leck, Gerrit Rietveld, Robert van 't Hoff, and J. J. P. Oud. 

2. It may look straightforward, but his work was spiritual. 

Mondrian sought to project the spiritual nature of objects into their purest form. Or, as he explained it to Dutch art critic H.P. Bremmer via letter in 1914: 

I construct lines and color combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness. Nature (or, that which I see) inspires me, puts me, as with any painter, in an emotional state so that an urge comes about to make something, but I want to come as close as possible to the truth and abstract everything from that, until I reach the foundation (still just an external foundation!) of things … I believe it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true.

3. His path to abstraction was painted with tradition. 

Though the De Stijil group was dedicated to the "absolute devaluation of tradition," this theory evolved only after much exposure to tradition. Raised in a home where his parents encouraged his creativity, Mondrian was first taught to paint by his uncle, Frits Mondriaan, a well-reputed artist. The Dutch student went on to study at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam and fell in love with landscape painting.

4. Post-Impressionism was an early influence. 

A groundbreaking painter in his own right, Dutch Luminist Jan Toorop introduced Mondrian to Post-Impressionism, and the impact this introduction made can be seen in how Mondrian’s landscapes transformed in his 30s. Bold colors and brushwork came in along with the pointillism technique made famous by Georges Seurat of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte —1884 fame.

5. Cubism came before De Stijil. 

When Mondrian moved to Paris in 1911, he was struck by the Analytic Cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. Mondrian began to experiment in the form, abandoning the bright colors of his Post-Impressionist phase for more muted tones. However, rather than attempting the three-dimensional depth of Cubism, Mondrian was striving for a 2D representation that still signified his subject matter.  

6. His passion was abstraction, but his day job involved the opposite. 

Getty Images

Those viewers who don't see the appeal of De Stijil might wrongly assume Mondrian could not create more complex art, but he was an accomplished artist in several arenas to support his abstract work. At various points in his career, he gave drawing lessons, sketched detailed images for scientific studies, and painted reproductions of great works for museums.  

7. His most famous works were created after World War I. 

Mondrian had been living in and loving Paris before the war, but when the conflict hit his new home while he was away visiting family in the Netherlands, he didn't dare return to a France. Once the fighting ended, Mondrian returned to Paris and created works that defined his unique branch of De Stijil, Neo-Plasticism. By 1925, these pieces were hotly sought by Europe's elite collectors. 

8. Mondrian preferred living among his work. 

Instead of having a separate studio, he combined his home and workspace, gladly inviting friends over to lounge and philosophize among his works in progress. In his apartments in London and Paris, Mondrian took this system a step further, creating a sort of 3D version of his work with walls painted stark white, "with the odd patch of red."

9. He really loved Disney's Snow White

The first full-length cel animated feature film enchanted this intellectual artist after he saw it in the spring of 1938 with his brother in Paris. When he moved to London that September, he began to send his brother postcards decorated with clippings from the film's advertisements, and written in character as Snow White's dwarves. 

In one card, signed by "Sleepy," Mondrian wrote of his adventures in his new home: "Landlord has had my room cleaned by Snow White and the squirrel has whitewashed the walls with his tail." 

10. He loved jazz music but was an abysmal dancer. 

Forget the stodgy image of the painter lost in thought and his harmonious abstractions. Though often described as an introvert, Mondrian reveled in the jazz scene of London, tearing up the dance floor with American socialite and art collector Peggy Guggenheim. Despite his enthusiasm, mutual friend Miriam Gabo, wife of the Russian sculptor Naum Gabo, remembered, "[Mondrian] was a terrible dancer … Virginia [Pevsner] hated it and I hated it. We had to take turns dancing with him." 

11. Hitler believed he was a Degenerate. 

In 1937, two of Mondrian's pieces were included in Hitler's Degenerate Art exhibition, putting Mondrian on a Nazi blacklist. "The great danger for us," he wrote to a friend before fleeing Europe, "is about our work; might the Nazis come in; what then?" Mondrian didn't wait to find out. After narrowly surviving the London blitz on September 7, 1940, he escaped Hitler's reach by moving to New York. 

12. Moving to America sparked a new chapter in his art.

In New York, the art world’s elite embraced Mondrian. He befriended the American Abstract Artists, and former dance partner Peggy Guggenheim became a dedicated supporter and exhibitor of his works. The energy of his adopted home inspired new complexities in his paintings, like double lines, and lines no longer made of black but of vibrant yellows, like 1943's Broadway Boogie-Woogie, arguably his most famous work. Sadly, this chapter was cut short when Mondrian died of pneumonia in 1944 at the age of 71.

13. Mondrian's works inspired two schools of modern art. 

Gone but not forgotten, Mondrian and the De Stijil he made famous have gone on to influence other forms of art. The German Bauhaus movement focuses on functionality and efficiency of design, and shows Mondrian's fingerprints in its simplified lines and color theory. Minimalism arose in 1960s New York, its geometric forms and purposefully narrow color palette harkening back to Neo-Plasticism. 

14. He's also inspired fashion. 

Getty Images

Color blocking has been an element embraced from runways to sidewalks to concert stages. In 1965, French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent designed six cocktail dresses he called the Mondrian Collection. Each was a simple shift form in white, with black lines and blocks of color, making its wearer a living work of art. 

Mondrian's influence had another major moment with the rise of the American rock band the White Stripes. Not only did the duo of Meg and Jack White perform uniformly in outfits of blocked red and white, but they named their second album De Stijil, and celebrated the movement in its cover

15. He's even inspired computer programmers. 

Mondrian has been so influential to computer science that programmers have actually scuffled over tributes to him. To pay tribute to the abstract artist whose paintings he believed his esoteric programming language resembled, David Morgan-Mar wanted to call his creation "Mondrian." But Martin Theus had already selected the name for a general-purpose statistical data-visualization system. Morgan-Mar went with "Piet" instead, lamenting, "Someone beat me to it with a rather mundane-looking scripting language. Oh well, we can't all be esoteric language writers I suppose."

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The Getty Center, Surrounded By Wildfires, Will Leave Its Art Where It Is
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The wildfires sweeping through California have left countless homeowners and businesses scrambling as the blazes continue to grow out of control in various locations throughout the state. While art lovers worried when they heard that Los Angeles's Getty Center would be closing its doors this week, as the fires closed part of the 405 Freeway, there was a bit of good news. According to museum officials, the priceless works housed inside the famed Getty Center are said to be perfectly secure and won't need to be evacuated from the facility.

“The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty,” Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the Los Angeles Times. According to its website, the museum was closed on December 5 and December 6 “to protect the collections from smoke from fires in the region,” but as of now, the art inside is staying put.

Though every museum has its own way of protecting the priceless works inside it, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Getty Center was constructed in such a way as to protect its contents from the very kind of emergency it's currently facing. The air throughout the gallery is filtered by a system that forces it out, rather than a filtration method which would bring air in. This system will keep the smoke and air pollutants from getting into the facility, and by closing the museum this week, the Getty is preventing the harmful air from entering the building through any open doors.

There is also a water tank at the facility that holds 1 million gallons in reserve for just such an occasion, and any brush on the property is routinely cleared away to prevent the likelihood of a fire spreading. The Getty Villa, a separate campus located in the Pacific Palisades off the Pacific Coast Highway, was also closed out of concern for air quality this week.

The museum is currently working with the police and fire departments in the area to determine the need for future closures and the evacuation of any personnel. So far, the fires have claimed more than 83,000 acres of land, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people and the temporary closure of I-405, which runs right alongside the Getty near Los Angeles’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

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This 77-Year-Old Artist Saves Money on Art Supplies by 'Painting' in Microsoft Excel
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It takes a lot of creativity to turn a blank canvas into an inspired work of art. Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi makes his pictures out of something that’s even more dull than a white page: an empty spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.

When he retired, the 77-year-old Horiuchi, whose work was recently spotlighted by Great Big Story, decided he wanted to get into art. At the time, he was hesitant to spend money on painting supplies or even computer software, though, so he began experimenting with one of the programs that was already at his disposal.

Horiuchi's unique “painting” method shows that in the right hands, Excel’s graph-building features can be used to bring colorful landscapes to life. The tranquil ponds, dense forests, and blossoming flowers in his art are made by drawing shapes with the software's line tool, then adding shading with the bucket tool.

Since picking up the hobby in the 2000s, Horiuchi has been awarded multiple prizes for his creative work with Excel. Let that be inspiration for Microsoft loyalists who are still broken up about the death of Paint.

You can get a behind-the-scenes look at the artist's process in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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