At the end of June 2018, I had the privilege of attending the Company of Ideas Forum of the Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park at beautiful Hornby Island. My research project on the visionary dimensions in the work of painter Piet Mondrian was awarded the inaugural Jeffrey Rubinoff Sculpture Park Postdoctoral Award. During the Forum I got to share my preliminary work on Mondrian’s visionary artistic ambitions. After the presentation I received many engaging questions and valuable feedback, which will surely help me further in developing this project.
Since October last year, I have been working on a line of enquiry into Mondrian’s ideas about vision and how he translated these onto his canvases. I presented about the significance of the term ziening (loosely translated as “visioning”) in Mondrian’s thinking at the autumn conference of the Dutch Association for Religious Studies (NGG). This term can be seen as the visionary equivalent of the term beelding, which Mondrian used to identify his approach to abstraction in his paintings. He translated this into English with the word plasticism, but later on scholars have also translated it as imaging. In much Mondrian scholarship the focus lies on this beelding, in order to find access to, and clarification for, his paintings.
In my research I address this question of how to understand Mondrian’s paintings not from a formalist point of view – a focus on the visual language – but I depart from the question how Mondrian wanted his artworks to function in the world. What did he see in them and how did he want others to see the embodiments of his radical abstraction? During my presentation at the new international research network Visionary Artists, Visionary Objects, I compared Mondrian’s artistic approach to that of his friend Charmion von Wiegand. Much inspired by Mondrian, Von Wiegand used abstraction in her later paintings to illustrate faith traditions in a modern manner. In contrast, Mondrian departed from his artistic practices, which he combined with spiritual interests in Theosophy, Astrology, meditation, Free Masonry and other types of esotericism. Through practice, Mondrian’s artistic and spiritual sensibilities developed in strong intertwinement. His artworks function as a witness to this development, but also encourage such spiritual development in the viewer’s engagement with the visible world.
This latter thought is central to the first publication that results from this research project. This will be a chapter, titled: Piet Mondrian’s abstraction as a way of seeing the sacred, which is published in the forthcoming edited volume Religion & Sight (Equinox Publishing, series: Religion & the senses). In this chapter I lay out the fundamental parameters of the multiple dimensions of the visionary aspects in Mondrian’s art. The research for this chapter was at the heart of my presentation at the JRSP Company of Ideas Forum. I was very glad it was well-received in such an international and intellectually stimulating environment. From the foundations as set out in this chapter, I will further develop my research on the themes of Mondrian’s ideas about religion, the development of his thinking in his theoretical texts, and how his work (artworks and theoretical texts) have been received throughout the 20th and 21st-century.
It is my firm conviction that a full understanding of the intricate connection between all these dimensions will lead to a much stronger understanding of Mondrian’s work, which by now has received the status of international icon of modern art.
I look very much forward to share more findings later on!