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Entries in Neo-Plasticism (5)


Ilya Bolotowsky: An Advocate of Abstraction

Ilya Bolotowsky - Large Blue Horizontal - 1975 - Acrylic on canvas - 28 x 90 in. - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (click photo for larger image)Neo-Plasticism is a Dutch movement founded (and named) by artist Piet Mondrian. It flourished from 1920 to 1940. It is a rigid form of abstraction, whose rules allow only for a canvas sub-sected into rectangles by horizontal and vertical lines, and colored using a very limited palette.

The Russian born American painter Ilya Bolotowsky (1907-1981) was heavily influenced by the Neo-Plasticism. Bolotowsky was born in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg. After the Russian Revolution, his family moved to Istanbul in 1921, then to New York in 1923. The Neoplastic style of abstraction as defined by Mondrian would prove to be the greatest influence on Bolotowsky's work. He began producing his own strictly abstract art in the early 1930s, and his admiration for Mondrian's approach is evident even in such late works as the one featured here, Large Blue Horizontal. Like Mondrian, Bolotowsky strove to establish a balance of horizontals and verticals that would be simultaneously harmonious and dynamic.

Bolotowsky was a constant and strong advocate of abstract art. He was a founding member of American Abstract Artists, which included American artists as well as European artists living in America, among them Fernand Léger, Joseph Albers, Jean Hélion, and Mondrian himself. Bolotowsky was also a member of The Ten, an artists' group that included Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb. (All of these artists are discussed elsewhere on What About Art?)

During the Great Depression, Bolowtowsky created a number of abstract murals for buildings in New York, as part of the WPA’s Fine Arts Project. In 1946, he was appointed head of the art department at Black Mountain College in Asheville, NC, which ceased operations in 1957. This was the first of many teaching positions Bolowtowsky would hold throughout his career.


Theo van Doesburg: Elementarism

Theo van Doesburg - Café Aubette, Strasbourg, France (Color scheme for floor and long walls of ballroom, preliminary version - 1927 - Ink, gouache, and metallic gouache on paper - 21 x 14 3/4" (53.3 x 37.5 cm) - Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York (click photo for larger image)Dutch Neo-Plasticist painter Theo van Doesburg (born Christian Emil Marie Küpper) (1883-1931) was one of the founders and leading theorists of the DeStijl movement (along with Piet Mondrian, which began in the Netherlands and flourished into one of the major inter-war movements. “It advocated a simplified, geometric, and reductive aesthetic in the visual arts and argued that painting, design, and architecture should be fully integrated.” 

In addition to painting, Van Doesburg designed buildings, room decorations, stained glass, furniture, and household items that embodied both De Stijl's aesthetic theories and the artist’s personal ideas. He also wrote numerous essays and treatises on geometric abstraction and De Stijl, published journals, and organized many exhibitions of works by De Stijl artists and related movements.

Van Doesburg’s personal vision was called Elementarism. It emphasized subtle shifts in tones, tilting geometric shapes at angles relative to the picture plane, and varying lengths of horizontal and vertical lines colored lines—some disconnected from one another. This represented a shift away from the stricter practice of Mondrian. Van Doesburg explained Elementarism as "based on the neutralization of the positive and negative directions by the diagonal and, as far as color is concerned, by the dissonant. Equilibrated relations are not the ultimate result."


What is Abstract Art…Really?

Arthur Dove - Golden Storm - 1925 - Oil and metallic paint on plywood panel - 18 9/16 x 20 1/2 in. - The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (click photo for larger image)Many people don’t understand the difference between Abstract Art and Non-Representational Art—and the terms are often used interchangeably (sometimes erroneously) even by arts professionals.

To “abstract” means to remove from—or highlight—the essentials of something. When applied to the visual arts, this means that the original idea is grounded in something from the “real” word, but presented in a non-realistic way. For example, artist Arthur Dove (1880-1946)—considered the first American abstract painter—provided his own personal interpretation of nature in Golden Storm, an early work of his mature style. Working on his boat, in Huntington Harbor, Long Island, Dove “captured the movement of water, freezing it into abstract, timeless patterns of choppy waves heaving under ominous billowing clouds.” He “abstracted” what he felt was significant in what he actually saw.

Piet Mondrian - Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow - 1930 - oil on canvas, 46 x 46 cm - Kunsthaus Zürich (click photo for larger image)Strictly speaking, Non-Representational art refers to works created wholly from the artist’s imagination—and having no foundation is a tangible reality. Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), for example, used the simplest combinations of straight lines, right angles, primary colors, and black, white, and gray in a number of his works—developing “an extreme formal purity that embodies the artist’s spiritual belief in a harmonious cosmos.” Although such works are often described as “abstract”— they are more aptly defined as “non-representational”. They are based on an idea—not a tangible reality.

The lines between abstraction and non-representation often do get blurred. It’s not always easy to tell the difference and it can get very confusing. I’ll be delivering a presentation designed to help sort out the distinctions on October 19, 2016, from 7-9 PM, for the Continuing Education program offered by the Chappaqua Central School District. It will be a fun program! You’ll see a number of fascinating works and learn more about abstraction and non-representation.


Piet Mondrian: Neo-Plasticism

Piet Mondrian - Lozenge Composition with Red, Gray, Blue, Yellow, and Black, 1924-25, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (click photo for larger image)Neo-Plasticism is a Dutch movement founded (and named) by Piet Mondrian. It is a rigid form of Abstraction, whose rules allow only for a canvas subsected into rectangles by horizontal and vertical lines, and colored using a very limited palette. Neo-Plasticism was somewhat influential on Russian Constructivism. Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) was an artist who carried abstraction to its absolute limits. He was an important contributor to the De Stijl art movement (Dutch, for style, and also known as Neo-Plasticism) whose proponents advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and color. 



Piet Mondrian - Composition with Gray and Light Brown - 1918; Oil on canvas, 80.2 x 49.9 cm; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TexasNaum Gabo (worked in Germany, England, and USA, born Russia, 1890-1977), “Head of a Woman” -nc. 1917-20 (after a work of 1916), celluloid and metal, 24 1/2 x 19 1/4 x 14 inches (62.2 x 48.9 x 35.4 cm), Museum of Modern Art, NYNeo-Plasticism is a Dutch movement founded (and named) by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944).  It is a rigid form of Abstraction, whose rules allow only for a canvas subsected into rectangles by horizontal and vertical lines, and colored using a very limited palette. Neo-Plasticism was somewhat influential on Russian Constructivism. Russian Constructivism developed in 1917 by the Russian sculptor Vladimir Tatlin (1880-1938). The aim was to construct abstract sculpture suitable for an industrialized society, and the work pioneered the use of modern technology and materials, such as wood, glass, plastics and steel. It spread to the West and had a great influence on art--long after the movement ended in Russia (for political reasons).