Completed in 1935 and now part of the collection at the Art Institute Chicago, it is evocative, communicating emotion through the use of deceptively simple colours and lines.
Mondrian and De Stilj
Throughout his lifetime Mondrian's art grew and developed, effected by the work of others around him and the events of the world. Early on in his career he moved from traditional work to being a part the Dutch 'De Stilj' art movement.
This was a post-World War 1 pared-back aesthetic that rejected the excesses of Art Deco and sought to communicate in harmonious, universal language, ultimately viewing art as a means of improving society and creating something utopian. Mondrian used straight horizontal and vertical lines and primary colours to produce his images, seeing what he created as a means of communicating emotion.
De Stilj and Composition No 1 in Gray Red
This can be clearly experienced in 'Composition No 1 Gray Red'. There is no story to tell or make sense of; instead the key to the image is the effect it has on the viewer. Rather than making sense of what is seen, the most important thing is to recognise the emotion that it causes.
It feels like the calm after the storm: the gentle neutral background colours give a sense of peace, whilst the red square overlooked by the three interlocking crosses is a striking contrast.
Overall it is flowing with a sense of calm, which in part has helped it maintain its popularity. Produced as it was in Paris during the tumultuous years leading up to start of World War 2, it feels like a wish for the world the artist hoped for.