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Thursday, October 27, 2011

LOOKING AT MARK ROTHKO

mark rothko



Yesterday I saw a one hour documentary on Mark Rothko, New York abstract expressionist of the 50s and 60s. He painted colors, rectangles of colors. This is a sample of a repeating pattern, though each time individual. Like people in that way, individual variations in a pattern. Rothko, like Josef Albers painted what I call colors. They surely have something to say about it other than colors, but color is the theme for both of them. Rothko paints his colors in what he called paragraphs. The National Gallery in DC has a room of Rothkos that is righteous. It's like the light comes out of the paintings. I saw that in Gauguins I've seen on museum walls  He had light in his colors. Maybe Rothko would say he painted light before he'd say he painted color. His colors have feeling. He can paint 3 or 4 paragraphs of different feelings jammed together in relation to one another. A brief story in colors.




mark rothko



People viewing Rothko paintings in a museum evidently tend to stand and gaze at them for periods of time. Time after time in the film you'd see people standing or sitting in front of one in spontaneous meditation. Recalling my time in the room in the National Gallery, I stared for long periods of time. It was like they had energy inside that radiated. We stand in the glow of the energy. I saw his pieces commissioned for a chapel at Rice University, Houston, Texas. Interesting dark browns of oxidation. I didn't feel good in there. It felt like inside his mind on a bad day, or in a bad year for the mind. I didn't care to go there with him. It's a valid thing to do with art, but I didn't feel comfortable. It felt like the place the soul goes after suicide. I don't know how I think I know that, but that's what it felt like to me. Dark and murky was the feeling. A dense fog in near darkness, industrial rust-brown darkness. I'd rather meditate with his paragraphs of light than dark. An artist has to go there. He can't paint all light paintings because one guy who can't afford even a print likes them best. I don't mean to sound like I want to limit what he does. Only telling how I feel in their presence. Somebody else might feel great. Evidently he did. I would too, probably, if I gave them more attention.




mark rothko




I feel like he covered the full range of the spirit, using color like Dante did with story telling. Rothko's paragraphs of colors make me look at them and wonder why I'm looking at them--what am I looking at?--I can't answer any of it. I look at all of it; I look at the fuzzy edges of the colors, the brushstrokes, the feeling in the color, the feeling in two colors side by side, and a third. I look at them and see the colors he uses, uniquely themselves. Believe it or not, I have to put there with the Rothko paragraphs, some of Warhol's dayglo colored silkscreens of the Campbell's soup can, 6 or so feet tall. That is something to stand before and let the mind drain. The Warhol's are equally beautiful, to my eye, but I'd rather sit on the floor in a room of half a dozen Rothkos for several hours than the Warhols, though maybe not. Only because the cans are recognizable as a familiar thing. With the Rothkos, it's just a color, and a vision of the color I've never seen before. It glows.





mark rothko




I look at these images of the paintings and love them. Then I see one, face to face, in a museum situation and that's when I see the full extent of its artistry. The colors are good reproduced. I love reproduced pictures. In nearly all cases, that's all I have to go by. It's good enough considering I don't have access to the thing itself. And when I do see one in some modern art museum somewhere, there is always one, at least, it is a moment of awe. I'm grateful for the internet making it possible to see all the Rothkos I can possibly digest multiplied by endless, or any of the artists I'd have no way to be able to see, meaning afford to see, because I'd have to go somewhere other than home and pay admission. The light in the computer screen gives them color closer than ink on paper can do. That quality of light Rothko gave his colors was luminous, like something that glows in the daylight. I appreciated most, perhaps, that the film did not dwell on biography. It was about his painting and stayed with it. I've read a biography and find his paintings much more interesting than his everyday life. They are his life. 



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2 comments:

  1. Hi, I stumbled upon this blog. Today I saw some paintings on the net of Rothko, and I was so intrigued that I had to google and look around for a bit. You describe the paintings beautifully, I wish I could see them in a museum once and feel what you described here. (I don't think there is a painting of him in my country somewhere, but I haven't checked that yet.)
    I know this is a rather old blog, but I had to react. Thanks for writing this.

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  2. Hello. I, too, just stumbled on this blog while looking up images of Rothko paintings. You describe your reactions to them in such an honest and beautiful way. I have seen some of his paintings in art museums and they are amazing! They are inspiring my own paintings. Thanks so much for posting these images. I agree that you cannot reproduce the glow and intensity of colour that the real paintings have, but that the computer screen does have more of the luminosity than paper reproductions or prints.
    To the person who posted October 6/12, I do hope you get a chance to see them in person somewhere. It is a wonderful experience.

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