Page 25 - Studio International - December1996
P. 25

From the catalogue to the   was not safe.
        Abstract & Concrete exhibition   We set off in deepest gloom in a second-hand car cost-
        organized in 1936 by Nicolette
        Gray—among the exhibitors   ing £l7  (less than the fares by rail) and all the children,
        were Gabo and Barbara   one hammer and chisel and some paints.
        Hepworth                 The last person we saw was Piet Mondrian in the street.
                                We begged him to come too, or to follow us. We said we
                                would find a studio for him. How could we look after him
                                if we could not get back ?
                                 He said No. He kept on writing to us until the bombing
                                started and he left for U.S.A.
                                 I shall always remember his eyes and elegant figure in
                                the street in Hampstead. The feeling that I should never
                                see him again. The feeling that I should never again see
                                his studio, or Ben's, or mine again.
                                 And so it was. A saint in Hampstead. A much loved  which I then occupied. I have always respected an artist's
                                friend—a great artist, whom we missed so very much.   privacy, especially during the precious hours of daylight,
                                 Once again I say that what he created was the beginning  but Mondrian was lonely and in the evening one or more
                                of something—an opening of the door to all of us. 	q  of the community of artists living in the district at that
                                                                Barbara Hepworth  time would 'drop in' unannounced and he always
                                                                                   received us with the gracious dignity that was one of his
                                When Mondrian arrived in London all the friends in the  characteristics. I do not remember any very profound
                                Mall scurried round finding things to furnish his room  discussions—we were more worried about his material
                                which had been found for him, very near to the Mall  comfort and practical difficulties—but no doubt we did
                                Studios. We all tried to make him comfortable. I seem to  discuss his paintings and art in general. I once noticed,
                                remember that Gabo and I supplied a cot and a blue  during a period of two or three visits, that he was always
                                quilt to keep him warm, etc. Also a pair of warm carpet-  engaged in painting the black lines in the same picture,
                                slippers which he treasured. He was always on some kind  and I asked him whether it was a question of the exact
                                of cranky diet and at this time he was on what was called  width of the line. He answered No : it was a question of
                                `The Haye Diet' after a Dr Haye who was very popular  its intensity, which could only be achieved by repeated
                                in France. We used to tease Mondrian, insisting that he  applications of the paint. There is a tendency to consider
                                existed on carrots alone. He came to us often for lunch  Mondrian's paintings as primarily the organization of
                                because I knew what he would and would not eat.    form or space, but to the artist himself these qualities
                                 When he came to our flat in Cholmley Gardens, he was  could not be divorced from colour, and colour to him was
                                quite interested in my realistic paintings and portraits  a quality of the utmost purity and exactitude. Hence any
                                and landscapes but gave me a solemn lecture in his  attempt to re-paint or 'restore' a painting by Mondrian
                                broken French-English on how to set about becoming an  (and it has been done) inevitably destroys the perfection
                                abstract painter (try first painting the landscape or por-  which was the artist's supreme passion. 	q
                                trait all in one colour!).                                                             Herbert Read
                                 Later on I volunteered to take him shopping for paints
                                and other studio equipment, and pursuing his desire for a  My chief recollection of Mondrian's stay in London was
                                painting smock, we stopped at various clothing shops on  that having found him a room in Parkhill Road, Belsize
                                the Hampstead Road, where he turned down shop-     Park near where Barbara Hepworth and I lived and
                                keepers' cloth coats, but when he was shown a real smock  worked in the Mall, he almost immediately transformed
                                with gathers at the yoke in the first artists' colourman we  the usual dull, rented room into a sunlit South of France
                                came to, he bought that and two or three big tubes of oil  (not as the South of France is lit now but as it was then) :
                                colour with a happy smile.                         this he did not only with the presence of his work but with
                                 I well remember Mondrian's determination and plan,  orange boxes and the simplest, cheapest kitchen furniture
                                which he carried out, to go to New York because of the  bought in Camden Town and then painted an immacu-
                                pending war in which we, in our innocence, did not at  late, glowing white. No one could make a white more
                                that time quite believe. 	q  white than Mondrian. The effect of entering his room on
                                                                     Miriam Gabo  a foggy Hampstead night was indeed something. Our
                                                                                   problem was to find enough friends who understood his
                                When Mondrian sought refuge in England in 1938 he  work and at the same time had enough money to buy it:
                                naturally came to Hampstead where he already had  his smallest works were then about £25 and the larger
                                friends—Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, and others  ones £45 but even so we did not have enough to buy one.
                                who had sometimes visited him in Paris. I myself had  But a number of friends did buy and amongst those I
                                once penetrated to the immaculate white cell in which he  remember are Leslie and Sadie Martin, Nancy Roberts,
                                worked there, and it was interesting to observe how  Helen Sutherland, Nicolette Gray and Winifred Nichol-
                                quickly he reduplicated his familiar environment in  son (who persistently helped him both in Paris and in
                                London. He found (or someone found for him) a room on  London and accompanied him when he left Paris for
                                the ground floor of a house in Upper Parkhill Road which  London). When war was inevitable we tried to persuade
                                was almost exactly opposite the studio in Mall Studios  him to move out of London and Herbert Read offered to
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