Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A neoplastic lightbulb

A.S. Byatt, A Whistling Woman:

Mondrian, too, had been in Hampstead in 1938 and 1939, painting severe black and white grids with discrete peripheral rectangles of red, yellow and blue. Mondrian believed that everything — the sum of things — could be represented by these three colours, with black, white and grey, within the intersections of verticals and horizontals. The colours were signs, denoting all the colour in the world, symbolising everything, purple, gold, indigo, flame, blood, earth, ultramarine, even green, which Mondrian could not bear to look at. The straight lines represented the refinement of spiritual vision. They were the intersection of the infinite flat horizon, and the infinite vertical, travelling away from earth into the source of light. They avoided the tragic capriciousness of the dreadfully particular curves of flesh, or even of the changing moon. The vertical line was taut, and was the tension of all things. The horizontal line was weight and gravity. The figure of the Cross was the meeting of vertical and horizontal, and intrinsic form of the spirit. The movement of waves on the sea, the form of the starry sky, could be represented with patterns of little crossings. Diagonals, according to Mondrian, were not essentially abstract, and should be eschewed. Wijnnobel thought this system was mad in its man-made purity, and yet found it endlessly beautiful in its own implacable terms. There were many triads of "primary" colours, of which, for historical reasons, Mondrian had picked one. It was one vision of necessity, of the building blocks of the universe. A theory of everything.
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