Abstract Critical

David Sylvester on Mondrian

The Centripetal and the Centrifugal

“The ocean is not oceanic, consuming, illimitable: it radiates from a vertical motif representing a man-made projection – like the towers jutting into the sky. Only the composition is no longer centripetal. The pluses and minuses of the sea don’t converge upon the pier: they do radiate outwards, are then checked by the containing oval within the rectangle of the page or canvas. These works are, of course, among the key transitional pieces between figuration and non-figuration in Mondrian. In the tensions they exhibit between centripetal and centrifugal, they are also representative of his transition from centripetal to centrifugal design. In Mondrian figuration is equated with the centripetal, nonfiguration with the centrifugal.”

The Infinite and the Finite

“Mondrian wanted the infinite, and shape is finite. A straight line is infinitely extendable, and the open-ended space between two parallel straight lines is infinitely extendable. A Mondrian abstract is the most compact imaginable pictorial harmony, the most self-sufficient of painted surfaces (besides being as intimate as a Dutch interior). At the same time it stretches far beyond its borders so that it seems a fragment of a larger cosmos or so that, getting a kind of feedback from the space which it rules beyond its boundaries, it acquires a second, illusory, scale by which the distances between points on the canvas seem measurable in miles.”

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