Stammer Mill with Streaked Sky by Piet Mondrian
Gallery P29, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
I stopped to examine Stammer Mill with Streaked Sky because I am consistently drawn to artwork by artists' use of light. The setting (or rising) sun peeks out behind the clouds in an overcast sky. It's stunning. The painter did a masterful job of giving us bright and vivid colors despite the dim, somewhat muted atmosphere.
I love this painting but likely would not have selected it for my blog had I not read the info card mounted beside it.
Piet Mondrian! Most people are familiar with Mondrian's abstract art, those paintings of black-lined grids filled with white, red, blue, and yellow squares. So famous has his abstract artwork become that the style has been usurped by photo filter apps, book covers, and album covers (e.g., the cover art for Silverchair's album "Young Modern" is a Mondrian-inspired 3D rendering of just such a grid).
This earlier work is nothing like the abstractions we all know so well. And I can't adequately articulate just how much I love it when I stumble across a piece of art like this. When I find something unexpected from an artist who's almost exclusively known for a particular style. Picasso, for example, is most known for his distorted, semi-abstract portraits, but his earlier works were masterpieces of realism. (This is something else I learned only recently.)
As the info card points out, you can see glimpses of Mondrian's future in this landscape: a bright yellow stripe where the sun shines through, a deep blue horizon line, and luscious red tones on the boat. And of course grids smile at us from both the windmill blades and the profile of the bridge.
Most of us have pigeonholed Picasso and Mondrian. And we do the same thing with the people in our lives. We know what we've seen, heard, & felt, and we infer that that's all there can be of them. We are so incredibly skeptical of layers, depth, change. It is easier to believe that people are evergreen than to keep track of how they evolve.
It's hard to describe how I feel whenever someone I've known for a while learns that I am also a singer/songwriter. For any number of reasons, they've not been exposed to that part of my life. They have pigeonholed me as whatever aspects of my life they are familiar with. It's a complex blend of disappointment, sadness, and frustration. (How can you not know this is an important part of me? How have you never seen/heard this? What have I done wrong? Am I an imposter? Am I not passionate enough? Or are you inattentive? Are you seeing me, I mean really seeing me?)
I believe that most of us work hard to show others who we are, but forget sometimes that no one will ever know us entirely. We are all mysteries, enigmas that can never be solved, whether or not anyone even bothers to try to puzzle us out. We reveal much, but we also hide much.
Who was Mondrian really? Was he the abstract artist we all know? Or was he the man who painted landscapes that only gave a hints of his obsession with lines and color? Or does he live somewhere between the two? Is one version hiding the other? Did he see abstract grids when he painted his windmill, or did he dream of windmills as he blocked out the cells in his primary-colored latticework?
I suppose the question I'm asking is whether people become who they're meant to be or move away from that in favor of a version of themselves that they believe is a better fit, goaded into such revisionism by society, family, or their own flawed perspective.
Am I spending my late-30s hiding who I once was, or was my younger self hiding this version of me all along? Am I throwing more and more clay on my once-true self? Or have I been carefully excavating the real me from a massive lump of rough, half-dry clay that demands more of me than I can sometimes give.
I know the answer is more complicated than that. We're told as adults that we are expected to shed so much of our youthfulness as we age. Is it truer to hold those remnants close or to push them away? What does it look like to allow ourselves natural evolution? To, in essence, allow the elements to erode that which is unwanted to reveal the desirous shapes beneath.
An Unending Symphony
Marble, soft and supple
Caressed by softer hands still
Shaped, formed, loved
He sees the masterpiece underneath
He chips and sands
Exhales his passion in great, heaving breaths
That condense and cling to stone flesh for but a moment
He sees the form
He sees the shape
He sees the visual symphony he will carve
But the stone says
Arms once bent, straighten to the sky
Eyes east, now to the side-center and stare at the Master
Musculature that arched with grace, hunches over
The Master carves deeper, faster
Wanting only to reveal that which he knows
But succeeding at only revealing all the things he did not
Will he let it loose
Or will he force arms back down
Eyes back out
Body back upright
Will he conduct his way to mediocrity
Or allow the symphony to conduct itself into a masterpiece no one can ever finish