Tuesday 14 October 2014

Mini Mondrian

I was disappointed that we didn't make it up to Liverpool to see the Tate's Mondrian exhibition this summer, but my friend and I decided nevertheless that Piet Mondrian's art was a great subject to explore with our little ones with its bold primary colours, clear form and ease of emulation. We all spent a happy couple of hours after school last week playing with coloured insulation tape, duplo and play doh.

We began by reading the (extremely clever) story book for children Coppernickel Goes Mondrian by Wouter Van Reek. Inevitably with such distinguished little productions, the story works on a number of levels. Mr Quickstep (who is Mondrian) sets out to look for the future. He and his little pooch Quickstep run into Coppernickel and his dog Tungsten who are berry picking. Coppernickel declares that if they wait long enough the future will arrive anyway, but Mr Quickstep remains unsatisfied; he craves the new and sets off. For days Mr Coppernickel cannot shake from his mind Mr Quickstep's quest, and eventually he and Tungsten set out in pursuit of the future too. The further they go, the stranger their surroundings become. They see they are accompanied by many others heading in the same direction. They pass handcarts and bicycles and reach an underground train which takes them to a busy, primary coloured city. Following a couple of mishaps involving a missing Tungsten, they eventually arrive at Mr Quickstep's studio (decked out in art reminiscent of their new world) where the artist exclaims that he feels he is on the edge of a completely new future. Coppernickel begins to experiment with coloured tape he finds lying around, and whilst the dogs discover new swinging sounds on the record player Mr Quickstep, inspired, has his Eureka moment; he has found his new style.

For the younger children, inevitably the book serves as a stunningly illustrated tale about a character who sets off on a journey for something new, leaves the country and reaches a crowded city - temporarily losing his dog along the way - and gaining a joyful new life. For older children (for whom this book is really designed) there is of course so much more going on. The seven year old was very taken with the fact that, although these characters were searching for their future, this was now indeed our past. He followed the clever change in style as Quickstep moved from country to city, from past to progress and from Mondrian's earlier work (which we showed alongside the story) to his later more abstract and simple forms. He was fascinated with the artist's choice of palette (no green) and how the brilliant illustrations were each so reminiscent of certain of Mondrian's styles or works. All, however, became excited as they clocked that as Quickstep and Coppernickel began to experiment with coloured tape, we too would shortly be doing the same...

 Whilst the children, armed with coloured tape and pens, worked on their own versions of Broadway Boogie-Woogie and some of Mondrian's other late works, we listened to the sounds of Satie and Milhaud, (composers Mondrian knew and was inspired by in Paris) and a selection of jazz and Boogie Woogie.

When Jazz was introduced to Paris in the 1920s Mondrian fell in love with the swinging rhythms of the new sound. He thought dances such as the Charleston and Foxtrot represented a newer and freer future. He wanted to do with colour what jazz was doing with sound. Instead of copying reality, he tried to capture the inner truth of images and used solid blocks of primary colours and lines to express concepts of movement and change.

Then in the 1930's, fleeing from Hitler, Mondrian found himself in New York. He loved the city, its architecture, vibrant atmosphere, and dance halls. He was inspired by the new music he heard - The Boogie Woogie - and he developed and changed his style further. He began to create his compositions with tape and loved the method so much that he included this material in some of his finished works.

Creating their own tape art certainly proved enjoyable but a little challenging for Culturebaby, who still needs help with cutting but inevitably wants to work independently. Nevertheless, both she and her 4 year old friend clearly understood the concept and process and, with help, produced some recognisable versions. The seven year absolutely old loved this activity and created more complex and accurate pieces. We then introduced the children to a few other Mondrian-inspired materials. We had researched and discovered a number of simple and brilliant ideas out there in the blogosphere.

We printed off a selection of Mama Miss' Duplo Printable Cards and provided a basket of duplo blocks for exploration:

We also made a set of Coloured Lolly Sticks, inspired by this post by LalyMom so that the children could create their own version of Broadway Boogie Woogie (see original piece here):

Finally, we provided homemade coloured playdoh in each of red, blue and yellow.

As with all the most successful childhood art appreciation projects, the younger children then took these three materials and used them to create their own unplanned sculptures that were clearly inspired by the architecture of the city illustrated in their story. They used a combination of playdoh, duplo blocks and the lolly sticks to produce some inventive (and beautiful) little works of art of their own. They were really proud of these, concentrated for ages on their construction, and (always a sign of success) Culturebaby requested and played with these materials for the following few days over and over again.

Even 10 month old Culturetot had fun - trying to eat the playdoh, handling duplo and posting the Mondrian lollysticks into a homemade posting box. This was such a simple project to prepare, and worked for a full range of ages. One for any rainy day.

Disclaimer: On request, Enchanted Lion Books, through their UK distributor The Perseus Books Group UK, kindly provided a copy of Coppernickel Goes Mondrian for review purposes. As noted above, where ideas have been gathered from other blogs, these have been linked to the appropriate source, with many thanks.

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