You may not know his paintings. You might not even be familiar with his name. But the legacy of Piet Mondrian’s work is inescapable.
The Dutch artist, who was most active in the period between World War I and World War II, created deceptively simple works that reduced painting to its essential elements.
In 1917 Mondrian, along with a few other artists, founded the De Stijl movement which rejected representational painting and advocated a visual vocabulary that was restricted to straight lines, bright blocks of color and shades of black, white, and gray.
Mondrian dubbed the minimalist style neoplasticism and believed that it both freed him from traditional contraints and allowed him to portray his spirituality via images of clarity, purity and harmony.
The style, if not the spiritual message, of Mondrian and the other De Stijl artists spread rapidly across Europe and America, influencing the design of everything from wrapping paper to architecture.
In the early 1940s, seeking artistic and political freedom, Mondrian came to New York City. He spent the last years of his life working here and is buried in Cyress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.
When I saw this painted structure on a run-down block near the Brooklyn waterfront, I was reminded of how much the city influenced Mondrian’s work, and how — whether or not we are aware of it — his use of line and color affect the way we see our surroundings every day.