Mondrian

Piet Mondrian detail by Miren Berasategi

As a freshly graduated art student I had no time for the work of Piet Mondrian.

How one's taste evolves! Through a mysterious process of following my gut, I ended up in love with him.

On a recent trip to New York City, after gorging on the Matisse exhibit (the focus of my trip, and another story), I took a quick turn through the modern painting floors before I had to catch the bus back to Boston - and there he was.

I've been an admirer for many years now, yet each time I see these paintings in the flesh they surprise me. In reproductions they can seem flat and almost sterile. Yet stand in the same room with them and they reveal themselves as disarmingly warm, painterly even, with tiny ragged edges jutting from a black line, thick strokes brushing through a white plain, a luscious lick of paint juicing up a field of red.

There's something deeply human in the attempt to make a clean, precise object by hand. Mondrian may seem at a glance to be going for a cool, inscrutable effect, but on closer inspection, he's conveying his exacting designs with deliberately sensual relish. He's a painter to the core.

What grabbed me on this visit was the profound sense of self vibrating from the canvases. This man is excited about each and every idea, and each one is a part of him. There, the way that black line stops just short of the edge. Here, the decision to wrap the colors around the side of the frame, as if he knew I'd see it first obliquely, from across the gallery. Over there, what if the blue were about to creep off the canvas? Or is it just entering the space?

The conviction born of a lifetime's step-by-step exploration fills these paintings. They don't ask to be approved of, they tell us what they are. Almost inexplicably there's a kind of sweetness, too. He is genuine. He does not reach for his idea, it's his, and he comes by it honestly.