Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mark Rothko

Before finding the Man Ray poster in the post below, I had decided to use a Rothko. There is a similarity, not of intent, but of style. I know from my recent reading of what Rothko had to say about art making, that he would find the comparison anathema to him, but there it is.

Rothko's work feels rather unimportant when small and reproduced. Standing in front of one of his canvasses, in person, is a completely different experience. Of course, this is true of all painting, but with his, the impact of the beauty of color does just not translate to the page or the computer screen.

I have felt incredibly moved by Rothko's work. His painting feels like much more than simply abstraction and he himself eschewed the very notion that he was an abstract painter. Standing before his work, I can understand his feelings about being pigeonholed as an abstract expressionist, for viewing his work is more of an envelopment than a viewing. It is to be experienced and in that way there is a lack of passivity in seeing (unless one is immune to such things). His work has inspired the same awe that I've felt upon seeing a beautiful sun rise, the setting sun upon layers of clouds. . .many beautiful moments witnessing the majesty of nature, especially those that are fleeting and one of a kind. That beautiful sunset one sees on a particular evening is one that will never be seen again. It is as if Rothko has captured that moment to cherish forever. It is much more than a photograph, which, for me, diminishes the experience. I may feel that way because I have found the camera an intrusion into pure experience, but again, it may also be the miniaturization of such grandiosity that also diminishes the emotional impact of witnessing the visual imprint of nature on ones' retina and into our emotional human brain.

After writing the above words, I found this quote from Rothko, which seemed quite apropos:

"I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous. The reason I paint them, however . . . is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command! ”

Rothko is one of those artists that, sadly, many non-artists dismiss out of hand with the "anyone could do that" comment. No, anyone could not do that. I admit that once I had felt the same way. My parents were artists and they were both quite facile. We visited museums in New York City almost every Sunday (instead of church, I suppose). However, my father was quite vocal in his complete rejection of any work that was post-impressionist. He did not understand non-representational work. He was, in a sense, a 19th century man in many ways. I was, of course, impressionable to his opinions, of which he didn't hesitate to share quite vocally, even with strangers in galleries. He was horrified by "the demise of painting", and would talk quite loudly when confronted with, say, a Rauschenberg. To him, work of this kind was an abomination, a perversion of art and of beauty. I mention Rauschenberg in particular, because even as a young child, I liked his work quite a bit, and would keep my mouth shut about this, for I feared the ridicule of my father. At least I knew that I must be "okay" in my liking it, for it was in a gallery or a museum, and as a child, this meant that it had some stamp of approval. I hadn't learned yet that this wasn't a given (and I'm grateful for that, for it may have kept me sane).

Of course, I digress. Art is a huge part of my upbringing and carries with it an immense amount of baggage.

For a beautiful overview and presentation of Rothko's work, please take a look at the National Gallery of Art's site. Wikipedia has an entry, of course, which gives more information about the artist's life.

No comments: