Friday, 21 November 2008

Paintings I like - without a horizon

Mark Rothko, Untitled 1969
Acrylic on canvas, 234x200cm
Collection of Christopher Rothko

Mark Rothko's work has a similar effect on me as Joan Eardley's. It just swallows me up... gulp... I'm gone. The paintings are left.

It's quietly sombre contemplative. The scale and the colour are just all that is there. I had been looking forward to the Tate Exhibition and kept wandering through the rooms, back and forth. The scale of paintings, the different series - 15 or so of the Seagram Murals in one room; the Black form paintings, Brown on Grey and Black on Grey. Fabulous.

There were two comments that stuck.

One was a conversation I overheard in the room with the black on black series: such variety in black (red, brown, green and blue ones; opaque, transclucent, matt, shiney). An elderly couple sat next to me. Her emotional response to the black was straightforward: "He must have been such a sad person." And she was clearly distraught by all the black she saw.

That's it. Enough said. You see, you read, you associate painting=painter.

Have a look at the series in question for yourself. The Tate has the exhibition online... here is the link to the Black Form Paintings

Similar to the Twombly exhibition, I had taken an audio guide - actually much more: a nice touch screen, music, stories, additional images. Very nicely done! And not in this room but in a later room, the curator commented on Rothko's association with the Abstract Expressionists. He, the curator was doubtful, commenting along the lines that while Rothko intended and experimented intensely with the evocation of emotional responses by the viewers of his paintings, the paintings themselves don't tell us all that much about Rothko the person, they are thus not particularly expressive/expressionist.

Interesting thought. I'll keep that.

The other one was the commentary on the last series: Black on Grey. In various sizes, formats, different borders surrounding them.

Instruction #1 for that room: This is not a horizon line. Don't read it as such.

Mark Rothko, Untitled 1969
Acrylic on canvas, 206x236cm
Collection of Kate Rothko Prizel

And here is the Black on Grey room

That is difficult - not to read it as horizon line. But I'm trying - and the painting is all the better for it. Brian had commented on abstraction as the barest hint at something, to be filled in. Let me fill that thought a bit further - or take it elsewhere.


  • The whole exhibiton is online with a lot of additional material. See the link here
  • Casey over at the Colorist has a lot good things to say about Rothko too

4 comments:

Casey Klahn said...

I envy you getting to see rooms with Rothkos. The single one or two that I saw at the MoMA don't do justice to the way he intended them, I think.

No, I don't see a horizon, either.

I disagree with the curator, although I don't know his complete thoughts on the subject. MR sat with the expressionists for the famous Irrascables photo, but at the same time, he did wish to be unique from the rest - which I think he did. I often wonder why he was so interested in the emotive aspects of painting - so I definitely see him as an expressionist.

Are the Eardley's big like the Rothko's?

Gesa said...

Cheers, Casey - yes, I figured that you wouldn't see these as horizon lines. I have your Moley with me just now and keep looking at your sketch. It's such a shame that you had to drop out of the exchange - I had been looking forward to seeing more of your work live... they are small, compared to Rothko, but fabulous. I do hope that everythign is going well for you!
Hm, yes... I hadn't quite thought of it, but yes, Glasgow/Edinburgh, London and Berlin work so well for good exhibitions (and music too). The room with the seagram murals is just overwhelming... in such a sombre way. Fantastic.
I think the curator's comment was acknowledging MR usually thought of as abs/exp but I think he (curator) resisted the easy reading offof who MR was by looking at his (black/dark) paintings. Have a good look at the the Tate exhibition - they seem to have a of the material online (incl some interviews with the curator)
Yes: Eardley's are big too - many of the seascapes at least (her paintings of children tend to be smaller); and similar to a room full of Rothko's it works by scale/intensity/immediacy.

Casey Klahn said...

Someday I'll see those Eardleys.

I think I will check out the Seagrams online. They were very much covered by Schama's 'Power", too. I have to admit that I am still trying to plow through Rothko's latest book (post-mortum).

Thanks for the kudos, Gesa.

Natalie said...

I loved the Rothko exhibition and was completely entranced by his black-form paintings and when i walked into the room with the black and gray paintings i had an over whelming seance of Christmas