Masters of the Modern
It’s almost impossible to talk about modern art without tipping your hat to these greats. Here are the masters who gave birth to the modern.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Picasso is the undisputed master of the modern movement. You have to go back to Michelangelo to find anyone of equal genius or stature. Convivial and energetic, he had a voracious appetite for the female sex, though his relationships with women were not always happy. Creator of a vast output of work, he was equally inventive as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and theater designer. His work displays a bewildering change of technical and stylistic originality with a wide-ranging Freudian response to the human condition, including many intimate references to sex and death, sometimes blissful, sometimes anguished. Always highly autobiographical, Picasso had the rare ability to turn self-comment into universal truths about mankind.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Matisse was the king of color and celebrated the joy of living through the exploration of his palette. One of the founders of the modern movement, Matisse achieved a joyous combination of subject matter (notably the open window, the still life and the female nude) and a glorious exploitation of color, and proclaimed a new freedom to do his own thing without necessarily imitating nature. Matisse explored color independently from subject matter and turned color into something you wanted to touch and feel. While he was at his best with paint and paper cutouts, he was also a brilliant and innovative printmaker and a gifted sculptor. As a personality, however, he was professorial, social, but a bit of a loner.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Kandinsky was one of the key pioneers of the modern movement and reputedly the creator and reputedly the creator of the first abstract picture. Russian born, he initially trained as a lawyer, which made him at ease with abstract modes of thought. Possessor of a complex, multifaceted personality, Kandinsky cultivated an intellectual rather than an instinctive approach to art, backed up by much theoretical writing. Starting as a figurative artist, he worked his way via freely painted abstracts to a complex geometrical form of abstraction. The common thread in all his work is color. He intellectualized his ideas and his art, but at the same time he had such a strong physical sensitivity to color that he could literally hear colors as well as see them. (a phenomenon known as synesthesia).

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Mondrian was one of the pioneers of a pure abstract art. His most recognizable works have the simplest elements: black horizontal and vertical lines, a white background and only the primary colors. His aim was to find and express a universal spiritual perfection, but his imagery had a profound influence on 20th century commercial and architectural design and has been endlessly recycled with little or no understanding of its underlying purpose. As a personality he was austere and reclusive; he hated the green untidiness of nature but was addicted to jazz and dancing. Sadly, in his own lifetime he had no commercial success, but Mondrian was highly revered and tremendously influential on the movers and shakers of modern art and design.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
“Jack the Dripper” was the leading artist of the pioneer New York school. He was a tortured, monosyllabic, alcohol-dependent soul, swinging between sensitivity and machismo, elation and despair. At his best he produced magnificent work that needs to be seen on a large scale to fully appreciate the passionate, heroic and monumental nature of his achievement. When he rolled his canvases out on the floor and he stood in the middle of them with a large can of house paint, he was literally and physically part of his work, thereby achieving an integration of the artist’s personality and the activity of artistic creation that had never before been realized with such expressive freedom.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Sure, Andy Warhol may have been a neurotic surrounded by drug addicts, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a key artistic figure. Warhol’s work represents one of art’s turning points because he changed the role model of the artist into one that all aspiring young contemporary artists now follow no longer the solitary genius expressing intense and personal emotion (like Pollock) but the artist as businessman. He placed artists on a par with Hollywood film stars and Madison Avenue advertising executives. Understandably, he loved and exploited iconic images drawn from the world of glamour, mass media and advertising, and you can still find his Campbell soup cans and Marilyn Monroe-themed prints everywhere. The son of Czech immigrants, Warhol acted out an oft-repeated American dream cycle pursuing a driving need to be famous and rich (like his subjects) but destroying himself in the process.

Adapted from mental_floss presents: Condensed Knowledge (HarperCollins).