THREE AMERICAN MODERNISTS WHO ADOPTED A FORM OF EUROPEAN ABSTRACTION DEVELOPED BY THE DE STYLL MOVEMENT OF PIET MONDRIAN AND THEO VAN DOESBURG DISPLAYING RUSSIAN CONSTRUCTIVIST ART , CUBIST AND THE EXPRESSIONIST ART OF WASSILY KANDINSKY OF BRIGHT COLOURS , SHARPLY DISSECTED LINES , SQUARES AND SHARP GEOMETRIC SHAPES. AN APPRECIATION OF BURGOYNE DILLER (1906-1973) , GEORGE KL MORRIS (1905-1975) AND BYRON BROWNE (1907-1961): PART 1.

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In this posting I am going to be dealing with the early abstraction of Burgoyne Diller , George KL Morris and Byron Browne . In many ways Diller was the closest to Mondrian and Van Doesburg who were the architects of Neo Plasticism.

American art starts by introducing Diller’s work.

” Diller was a member of the abstract Artists group organisation that looked to Europe and particularly to the work of the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian who in 1940 had arrived in New York to escape the 2nd world war raging in Europe”. [1].

” Diller’s third theme (as he called them) draws heavily from Mon drain’s work adopting his simple grid structure and use of primary colours”.[2].

Diller always showed his attachment to Mondrian’s style and faithfully reproduced the rectangles and squares with dissecting lines in perfect harmony. Mondrian was a complete Idealist and believed his art could be interpreted  as  peaceful and harmonious.

” Diller struck rigidly to this style after Mondrian’s death in 1944 and built a reputation as one of the most consistent and unflinching of the American Abstractionists “. [3].

Matthew Baigell in his Concise History of American Painting and sculpture also comments on Diller.

” Burgoyne Diller who incorporated constructivist elements into his work as early as 1930 turned to the grid like form of Mondrian by 1933. He was perhaps the first American to do so”. [4].

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As  Baigell explains in his commentary Diller followed Mondrian exactly with his dissecting lines , shapes and perfectly balanced geometric abstraction.

” Most of his (Diller) subsequent paintings and relief constructions were then then created in three different modes which he called themes”. [5].

” In the first  theme rectangular forms floated freely on neutral ground. A simple Mondrian grid characterised the second theme and a complex active grid enlivened the third theme”. [6].

Baigell now comes to consider the art of Byron Browne who had a much looser form of abstraction.

” In contrast Byron Browne turned towards a more loosely formed art in the 1940’s in response to the presence of the surrealist painters who had fled war -torn Europe for America and to the growing presence of those artists who were to become Abstract Expressionists”. [7].

” Most of the artists associated with the American Abstract artists probably would have subscribed to the ideas of George KL Morris the painter and writer who can be considered the chief spokesman of the group”. [8].

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In these set of images I have shown you can see the difference between Diller and Morris and Browne , My opinion is that Morris and Brown do not use a grid pattern so reminiscent of Mondrian but favour colour and use more expressionist art which Wassilly Kandinsky used shapes and more  colour.  In some of Browne’s paintings there is evidence of figurative work very similar to Picasso and the later Cubists.

” He (Morris ) wrote in 1938 the bare expressiveness of shape and the position of shape must be pondered anew , the weighty of colour , the direction  of line and angle can be restudied until the roots of primacy tactile reaction shall be percieved  again”. [9].

Baigell continues his commentary on the important contribution of Morris who was the leader of the group.

” Such a dramatic renewal of art was necessary it was held to reflect the ideas of a technological Modern culture and also to impose order on the culture”. [10].

” For as Morris wrote in Partisan review (A journal with left wing and Marxist Ideas at the time) in September 1941 an era of convulsion requires artists that they restrict their horizons and close in upon a consciously ordered world where every facet is completely understood”. [11].

Ann Morgan in her Oxford dictionary of American art and artists comments on these three Modernists.

” Diller Burgoyne among the foremost American creators of geometric abstraction”. [12].

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Much of Browne’s work reminds me of Ferdinand Leger who followed the Cubists and had a similar approach to the disjointed forms that led Cubism towards Abstraction. This was the comment of the foremost American Critic during this period  Clement Greenberg.

Ann  Lee Morgan Continues her commentary on the importance of Diller.

” The Cezannesque still lives of his student days (Diller) initiated an extended enquiry into the forms of Modernism , including Cubism Kandinsky’s abstraction , construction and other European models”. [13].

” His mature purely geometric style (Diller) evolved in the 1930’s in response to the neo-plasticism of Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg”. [14].

Morgan continues her commentary on Burgoyne with some important observations.

” He limited forms to rectangles defined by verticals and horizontals and colour to the Primary hues plus black and white but nevertheless achieved considerable variety”. [15].

” Later Diller also made relief sculptures and Columnar structures that translated his principles into 3 Dimensions”. [16].

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Socialist Poster During the Spanish Civil War

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Ann Lee Morgan now concludes her discussion of Diller.

” Diller was single- handedly  responsible for most of the Depression era, government sponsored abstract wall decorations. Illya Bodotowsky , Byron Browne , Stuart Davis ,Ashille Gorky and Balcomb Greene numbered among the Beneficiaries”. [17].

” in the Mid-1930’s Diller assisted in the formation of the American Abstract artists Group”. [18].

This concludes my first part about the three Modernists who were instrumental in steering American Art towards abstraction. It would be left to the Abstract Expressionists to complete the Task including  Mark Rothko , Jackson Pollock William De Kooning Ashille Gorky Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell and others. In Part 2 I will further investigate the art of Burgoyne Diller , George KL Morris and Byron Browne.

FOOTNOTES

  1. AMERICAN ART FLAME PUBLISHING PG. 226
  2. DITTO.PG.226
  3. DITTO.PG.226
  4. A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE .MATTHEW BAIGELL . PG.281.
  5. DITTO.PG.281
  6. DITTO.PG. 281
  7. DITTO.PG.281
  8. DITTO. PG.281
  9. DITTO.PG.281-2
  10. DITTO. PG.282
  11. DITTO.PG.282
  12. A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN ART AND ARTISTS .ANN LEE MORGAN.PG.123.
  13. DITTO.PG. 123
  14. DITTO.PG.123
  15. DITTO.PG.123
  16. DITTO.PG.123
  17. DITTO.PG.123
  18. DITTO.PG.123

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