Painting of the Day

3 Dec



White over Red. By Mark Rothko (1903-1970). Oil on canvas, 1957. Belongs to a private collection.

Notes from a write-up of a lecture given in 2005 at the Universidad de Almeria in Spain by Dr. Hugo Heyrman for the First International Conference on Art and Synesthesia titled “Art and Synesthesia: in search of the synesthetic experience”:

Rothko‘s horizontal divisions of soft floating colored spaces are an invitation to enter into the depth of the color fields, and to become totally saturated with them. The undefined background envelops the viewer and evokes a spiritual feeling of infinity. The painting has an almost breathing energy. Because of the luminous quality, the colors seem to move back and forth, as if it were another living presence. Rothko created his own biology of art. By the layering of one experience over another, Rothko’s paintings seem to aspire the emotional condition of music, suspending sound in color, by radiating visually as silent music. The sensibility of the color is real and abstract at the same time. Rothko himself felt that the works could express emotions associated with universal themes such as tragedy, ecstasy, and the sublime. In this paintings, Rothko meditated on how the origins of life could function as a metaphor for the origins of consciousness.

My comments:

After trying to look for somewhat more specific information about this painting, I stumbled upon the lecture from which I took the notes I posted above. The lecture is actually quite interesting; I’ll post the link for it too. 

Anyway, back to the painting: As I’ve come across sections on Rothko in museums and art history textbooks, I’ve seen Rothko labeled sometimes as a color field painter and sometimes as an abstract expressionist. Although these terms are not mutually exclusive, I personally see Rothko more as a color field painter because to me the expressive quality of abstract expressionism has a lot to do with the physicality of the painting process in which abstract expressionists engage. Abstract expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning almost violently attack the canvas when they paint, and to say you see the artist’s hand in their work is an understatement; not only do you see the artist’s act of creating in the painting, you see their feelings, what they were thinking while they made it, what they were worried about, everything. In Rothko’s works, the thoughts of the artist are more illusive to me. His works, although beautiful (and extremely popular, apparently, since the first 20 hits that appeared on Google after I searched this painting were websites selling posters and stationery with Rothko paintings printed on them), I always find haunting in an unsettling, uncomfortable way. Perhaps this is because I know that Rothko was a troubled person and had died by overdosing on antidepressants and slicing his arms with a razor in his kitchen. But even in works like White over Red, which he made 13 years before his suicide, I still feel this harrowing, disturbing feeling. The color relationships Rothko chooses are so simple and yet somehow so remarkable, and he certainly understood how to create beauty that became emotional.

One Response to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara December 4, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    Extreme artistic talent seems to travel dangerously close to madness, depression , and mental illness.refernce my previous comment regarding Rene and his mother.

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