Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rothko's Black Paintings

In the National Gallery of Art in the Tower, is a gallery currently showing several of Mark Rothko's paintings that are all black.  Or, at least that's what the viewer may think when first coming into the room.  Two or three to a wall, they hang--large black rectangles.  I was tired--it was the end of my day, so I sat down on a bench to take a breather.

What would cause an artist, so thoroughly known for his color studies, to paint black?  Some have said they were "tokens of the depression and illness that began to plague him in 1961, a harbinger of his suicide in 1970" (from the exhibition notes, Smithsonian).  But others think it was the next logical step in his development, influenced as he was by Matisse's painting, French Window at Collioure.

Matisse's French Window at Collioure
 Of that one (above), Matisse said, "I began to use pure black as a color of light and not as a color of darkness."

 The exhibition notes go on to infer that it was Rothko's intent to "raise painting to the 'level of poignancy of music and poetry' " believing that "aesthetic harmony was empty if it did not reflect the range of human passions, from terror to joy."

By now my eyes had adjusted to the light and I began to see a chocolate-colored "black" rectangle within the formerly all-black painting.  I looked again at the others, and was able to distinguish differences now. Some tones were green-black.  Others were magenta-black.  One painting was black-black but the surrounding "frame" was a grey-black and a rougher texture.  Rothko's black canvases did indeed have color radiating out from them, as he wanted.  They did indeed have an "inner light," as he had once stated about some of his other paintings.

I left that gallery, walked through the Munch (quickly now, it was 10 minutes until closing), visited the Arcimboldo look-alike (made by Phillip Haas), only huged up and made from fiberglass instead of vegetables, and then out the door at closing, the guard shooing us all out with a sweep of his hand through the revolving door.

I got into the mood of self-portraits while photographing the glass pyramids in the front of National Gallery of Art West, and snapped one of myself, reflecting all the angles, the sky, the sculptures, the clouds, and the day.

1 comment:

Judy said...

Okay, I take it back. I probably could NOT paint that.
Nice post. I learned a lot!