Since the early stages of his activity Piet Mondrian has been searching for one image which could express in the most comprehensive way his inner vision of reality.
In 1942-43 the artist gives birth to Broadway Boogie Woogie, a painting which in my opinion represents that image and a compendium of all of his work.
I will try to support here this thesis by examining paintings from 1908-10 and 1915 that show how at that time the painter already endeavoured to give shape to some of his fundamental views on reality which progressively developed during his stay in Paris and finally took clear and definite form in 1942-43 with Broadway Boogie Woogie.

 

Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43

Diagram 1

Diagram 2

 

Broadway Boogie Woogie shows a process where a large number of yellow, red and blue fragments unify in a large plane of those colors (Diagram 1);
Diagram 2 shows how the unity then reverts to a manifold state. From a multi-faceted and ever-changing space to a unitary and relatively stable configuration which then opens up again to the initial multiple and dynamic state. Further details on this process here. An in-depth examination of Broadway Boogie Woogie here.


 

Pier and Ocean 5, 1915

Diagram 1

Diagram 2


This work belongs to a series of drawings, the subjects of which was the sea and a pier jutting out from the beach into the waters. The vertical pier appears designed to express something more constant while the horizontal sea heralds multiplicity and change.
These are issues that go beyond the particular aspect of a certain landscape to face a dialectic between the changing aspects of life and the human need to stabilize them and find something of greater duration. We are constantly stimulated by the unforeseeable flow of existence in everyday life and open up to innovation on the one hand while seeking to maintain the integrity of our established equilibriums on the other.

The interaction between the upward vertical progression of the the pier (at the bottom) and the horizontal expansion of the sea generates a multiplicity of different signs; a whole variety of situations where something changes every instant. Every sign is unique by virtue of the different type of relationship established in each case between the two opposing directions. The variety of unstable signs finds a more balanced and lasting situation in a square form which generates in the upper part of the composition (Diagram 1). A square is namely an equivalence of horizontal and vertical. In that square, for an instant, the variety of ever-changing signs reaches equilibrium and unity. The juxtaposition that produces open and unstable situations elsewhere is transformed into interpenetration that generates harmony in that square.

A second square can be seen above the square that we have identified as a unitary synthesis of the composition as a whole (Diagram 2).
Inside the second square we se a vertical segment divided by two horizontal segments that extend beyond the boundary of the square to the right and left. The two small horizontal segments form two crosses with the two vertical sides of the square. These two signs tell us that unity is opening up to duality. The unitary synthesis achieved in the lower square in the form of the equivalence of opposites is again broken up into a duality that then flows back toward the variety of different situations marked again by the alternating predominance of one direction or the other. The unity generated with the first square opens up again to manifold space with the second.

 

Closer examination shows that the idea of multiplicity being transformed into unity and then reverting back to multiplicity originated even earlier than Pier and Ocean 5.

 

Apple Tree in Blue, 1908-09

The Red Tree (Evening), 1908-10

Study of Trees 1, 1912



Observe three versions of the tree. The trunk is vertical while the space extends horizontally with the branches. This holds for Study of Trees 1, where the lower branches are taut and form horizontal lines perfectly orthogonal to the trunk but also for Apple Tree in Blue as well as for The Red Tree (Evening) where the transition from trunk to branches is more gradual and, unlike Study of Trees 1, the branches tend to touch the line of the horizon on the right (see also Final Study for the Red Tree (Evening).


 

In all the versions of the tree the line of the ground runs from one side of the painting to the other and therefore seems to correspond to the uninterrupted space expressed during the same period with dunes, i.e. a boundless horizontal expanse.

 

 

Evening Sky with Luminous Cloud Streaks, c. 1907

Seascape, 1909

 

 

 

Oil Sketch for Blue Apple Tree Series, c. 1908

 

Final Study for The Red Tree (Evening), 1908

Apple Tree in Blue, 1908-09

The line of the ground presents a horizontal sequence of small vertical strokes, above all in Oil Sketch for Blue Apple Tree Series, Final Study for the Red Tree (Evening) and Apple Tree in Blue. Some of the vertical strokes cluster together and consolidate to form the trunk, from which the multiple branches project before joining up again with the line of the ground on the right. Close observation reveals that this is a circular process. The line of the ground converges in the trunk, the trunk generates the branches, and the branches then return to the original line. Through the vertical (the trunk), a boundless space that cannot be wholly represented within the canvas (the line of the ground, i.e. the endless natural horizon) becomes a manifold space (the branches) that is expressed as a synthesis inside the painting before flowing back toward the virtually infinite extension of the ground.

The objective totality (the uninterrupted continuity of the ground, a plastic symbol of the boundless natural extension) is transformed through the unifying action of the trunk (the vertical was for Mondrian a symbol of the spiritual) into a momentary subjective synthesis (the set of branches) that then flows back toward the objective totality out of which it was generated. The objective becomes subjective and then returns to the objective; the tree is a metaphor of the process that Mondrian himself described as "the subjectivization of the objective"; a process which guided the whole of his work. The objective is the infinite dimension and endless variety of the real physical world while the subjective encompasses the never-ending attempts elaborated by the human mind and spirit to translate that infinite variety into measurable and therefore thinkable synthesis. In other words, the figure of the tree shows a process from a boundless, multiple space (the line of the ground) to a unity (the set of branches unified by the trunk) and from that unity again toward boundless multiplicity. Still veiled by the appearance of a tree, this is the process Broadway Boogie Woogie. will express in abstract - i.e. universal - form twenty-seven years later.

 

 

The idea of a circular process seems to find confirmation in The Red Tree (Evening), where a circle can be seen in the upper right section, and also in Apple Tree, Pointillist Version, where the whole seems to suggest an oval outline.

The Red Tree (Evening), 1908-10

 

Apple Tree, Pointillist Version, 1908-09

 

 

 

Pier and Ocean 5, 1915  

 

Mutatis mutandis, we see the same idea of a circular process in Pier and Ocean 5, where the horizontal flow of the sea is concentrated by the vertical (the pier symbol of the spiritual) into a synthesis (the square) that opens higher up to the horizontal (the natural) before flowing back toward manifold space.

 

Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43

 

 


The same idea takes a whole new shape in Broadway Boogie Woogie, where the virtually infinite space of the lines is concentrated into the unitary synthesis of a plane that then reverts to the infinite extension of the lines.

The naturalistic - expressionistic tree of 1908-10 thus already reveals in wholly embryonic form the process from multiplicity to unity and from unity to multiplicity that took shape in 1915 with Pier and Ocean 5 and was expressed in clear form and with the brightest colors with Broadway Boogie Woogie in 1942-43

“Life is a continued examination of the same thing in ever-greater depth” (Piet Mondrian)

 

 

copyright: michael (michele) sciam 1989-2021 all rights reserved

 

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