You can’t miss The Turner Contemporary in Margate. It stands on the seafront, distinct from other buildings around it – all angular straight lines and hard concrete.
The work of Mondrian was being shown and although not my favourite artist, who was I to argue with free entrance (donations gratefully received) to appraise some of his earlier pieces in an easy going environment, with the added advantage of sea air when one needed a break.
“Get the headphones, S” E had advised when I told him I was going. Usually I go for that kind of thing. It’s a bit like following a ranger around Yosemite or the Grand Canyon – lots of interesting info to lap up. But, this time I decided to go it alone.
His early studies in oil surprised me. I knew the geometric stuff – white canvas with black lines and some red or blue and yellow filling in the boxes. But, these were all sumptuous naturalism: Landscapes painted in oils of the countryside around Amsterdam, where he was from… another thing I didn’t know.
His ‘Riverscape with row of trees at left, sky with pink and yellow-green bands’ made me feel like jumping in to float on the still, green water and watch the sky changing into a dazzling sunset of orange and pink hues. What sensibility he had with colour!
I began to get more interested. How on earth did he get from that lush expression to the austere abstraction of primary colours on white?
I put the headphones on and watched the 50 minute documentary.
His aim was to get to the truth – the very essence and pared down beauty of simplicity in communication; He lived alone in a studio which was like one of his later paintings – bare, white, splashes of primary colours here and there; He loved Jazz, its influence on him resulted in a vibrancy of geometric shapes in his later work – both energising and simultaneously serene to look at.
His story blew me away.
As the film came to an end, the gentleman next to me spoke so that I didn’t hear the last quote from the artist: “Fascinating, wasn’t he?” he asked. I scribbled away furiously trying to get the words down but only got half.
Days later, Claire from the Turner Contemporary rang: “I think this is the quote you wanted” she said and kindly dictated it to me:
“Art today is condemned to a separate existence, for present day life is essentially tragic. But, in some distant future art and life will be one.”