Jannis Kounellis: Gray is the Color of Our Time

In this beautiful video the artist Jannis Kounellis talks about his work, art, humanism, cultures, current time, participation, globalization and more. I love to hear how he talks about the reason why he became an artists instead of a sailor like the rest of his Greek family: “Why does someone become a painter at that moment? I don’t quite remember if it was morning or afternoon. If the sun was shining when an image hits you.”


It is interesting to hear how he views globalization as repeating the same everywhere as opposed to dealing with diversity. Kounellis: “We [artists and designers] should listen and participate without interrupting the relation established by the people with the land.” In this light he prefers Picasso when he compares him with Mondriaan because it is Picasso who let’s himself be influenced by war in his work [literally by painting Guernica] and Mondriaan doesn’t use the bombing of London in his work. Even though I agree with Kouneliss idea of respecting diversity I wonder whether the work of an artist who follows his personal path of investigation, whose work is separated from events in society, participates less in society than an artist who does?

Living in his studio that looked like one of his paintings, Mondriaan wants to reveal what has always been there, what he sees and what others don’t see, a world of perfect balance. As a consequence of this idea a balanced world wouldn’t need art because we would be living in art. In this sense it is not surprising that realism for Mondrian was out of the question because realism for Mondriaan is to fall back on the existing visible world which is in unbalance. However Mondriaan isn’t a pessimist, although he considers art in his time as being in isolation, art will eventually reunite with life.

I can imagine that the work of an artist who responds to events, globally or locally, has an obvious link with society. But the work of Mondriaan, as an investigation on understanding the world, represents his idea that (abstract) art equals living. Finding and visualizing this perfect balance through art would show the structure beneath our world to the world. And although Mondriaan refers to the world as a linear system in his work and not so much to the systems of societies, I think Mondriaans work of perfect balance can be used to show unbalanced processes that are still invisible in society. Mondriaans work is a canvass of life striving for balance which therefore can operate as a reflection on the events occurring in our society and personal lives.

As Picasso painted the result of war in all its immensities, Mondriaan tried to construe the system or rhythm of a balanced world that would overcome an unbalanced life that leads to catastrophic events. The latter takes time to understand, as Mondriaan was well aware of.

Karin – Filterdesign & University of Applied Science Amsterdam

(source: Close up: In het atelier van Mondriaan.)

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