a-z challenge: r

{TW: graphic info about Rothko’s suicide.}

This one is a no brainer. R is for Rothko and the reason for that, is a gentle and logical progression from seeing my very first one (Light Red Over Black) at the Tate, and then Georgia O’Keeffe’s comment about his work being like a weaving, in a film at the Hayward.

“Abstract art never interested me; I always painted realistically. My present paintings are realistic.” |Mark Rothko – The Seagram Murals|

*makes like Sophia in the Golden Girls* Picture this, Sicily London, 1993. A young woman scurries from gallery to gallery, looking in vain for her soul, her fortune, or a girlfriend. Her trusty copy of Time Out, newsprint classifieds bleeding into the rain, would get her one of those things in time, but for now, it got her to the Tate Modern. By then she had a homing device tuned to it and a thorough knowledge of which rooms to bypass and which postcards to buy.

The Rothko Room


The Tate has nine of the Seagram, or Four Seasons Murals, I’d read a short blurb saying (more or less) that after being commissioned to paint them for the Four Seasons Restaurant, Mark Rothko threw a serious case of artistic temperament, flung the commission money back and flounced off.

“Anybody who will eat that kind of food for those kind of prices will never look at a painting of mine.”  (Mark Rothko, 1959) |source|

The works I saw at the Tate had been donated by Rothko himself.

On February 25, 1970, Oliver Steindecker, Rothko’s assistant, found the artist in his kitchen, lying dead on the floor in front of the sink, covered in blood. He had sliced his arms with a razor found lying at his side. The autopsy revealed that he had also overdosed on anti-depressants. He was sixty-six years old. The Seagram Murals arrived in London for display at the Tate Gallery on the very day of his suicide. |Late at Tate at Tate Liverpool (22 October 2009): Reflect on Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals in the twilight hours|

rothko460There was a skylight, the paintings were subdued and so were the people. I went back on a sunny day and as the paintings brightened a little, the people around me brightened a lot. On the grey day, they slumped quietly on the benches in the centre of the room; on the sunny day, there was a quiet energy and a much, much lighter mood. It’s logical and obvious, writing it down now, but then it felt like a revelation – art epiphany #3.

Inner-space-...-the-Mark--007I didn’t know much at all about the artist or the paintings then, and the work, the visceral experience of it, was enough. No internet, no rapid research fast answers; I read whatever I could find and my life was so freaking peripatetic, that threads and themes were inconsistent. It was like a rich scavenger hunt back then, much later I began to fill in the gaps. Mark Rothko was not love in the ways that Picasso and O’Keeffe were. I didn’t understand him intellectually then and to be honest, I don’t think I do now. I have zero idea how to and I’m not remotely interested in anyone’s technique. Mood, texture … that’s about it really. I love the colour blue (so do 40% of humans, apparently) and it’s tempting to fall in love with Rothko’s, but there’s a small niggle at the back of my mind, that says if I did, I’d have entered ‘does the art match the couch’ territory and then, well it’s all downhill from there, innit?

Almost everyone who enters the room feels an urge to sit down on the benches in the middle of the space. It’s as if the emotional weight of these sombre works instinctively makes you sit, instantly drained by them. Before you even have time to try to compose a rational understanding of them, they have a psychological impact. The Tate’s Mark Rothko exhibit: a room with a view of the subconscious

Mark-Rothko-Seagram-Murals-at-the-TateSo I can look at Rothko paintings and fall into their density for a while and feel colour all around, but actual sensible thought? When I attempt that, it all puzzles the fuck out of me. I firmly believe that art is better when it’s independent of all the blather of criticism and interpretation. Everyone, no matter their age or education, who looks at a painting and thinks or says a word or a million words about it, is absolutely, unequivocally right. In the Rothko Room, I probably gazed far more at the other people in the room than I did at the art. And since their reactions were a reflection of those paintings, it was truly fascinating.

Moar Stuffs

82.65.409_PS2“Like many artists, Mark Rothko was many people. He was the European emigre enjoying a better life in America; he was the impoverished adolescent from a political family who met anarchist Emma Goldman; and he was the young anarchist who studied at Yale. He repudiated abstraction and colour field, yet became known as the most famous of abstract artists and colour field painters.” The Strange Life & Stranger Death of Mark Rothko

“In October 2012, Black on Maroon, one of the paintings in the Seagram series, was defaced with writing in black ink while on display at Tate Modern, by a man named Wlodzimierz Umaniec. It was estimated that restoration of the painting might take up to eighteen months to complete. The BBC’s Arts Editor Will Gompertz explained that the ink from Umaniec’s marker pen had bled all the way through the canvas, causing “a deep wound not a superficial graze” and that the vandal had caused “significant damage.”” |bbc news|

“Kate Rothko Prizel is a strong-looking woman with a disarming smile that she switches on and off like a flashlight. You sit opposite her, trying not to be distracted by the subliminal hum of the canvases on the walls – three early Rothkos to the right of me, and one to the left – and you wonder: how did she do it? How did she survive?” The art cheats who betrayed my father


dtho23March09Tate0006.JPGmarkrothko.org – A comprehensive resource for information about Mark Rothko paintings, prints, biography and quotes.

Rothko @ MoMA

Rothko @ the Guggenheim






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battlescarred, bright, bewildered, bent, blue & bipolar

26 thoughts on “a-z challenge: r”

      1. I love that his work speaks into a persons soul. It’s not overwhelming to look at, there’s some structure to the pieces, but it’s not strict. You can see that even in the pieces he struggles to see the light in himself where there is only darkness that tries to drag him under. That’s something everyone can feel. Like you said on the gloomy days the people where slumped, turned inward. On the sunny days they were more upright and happy. His art is the same. He’s not painting to make us think we need to extend to another level of living, but to be human, and being human is real and we don’t need to ignore that. We need to embrace it. I’ve never EVER had artwork speak to me like his has.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I need to look again and think about your comments. I love hearing what people see and think. I feel the need to say ommmmm and stroke a singing bowl at the end of your comment.

          Ommmmmmm … fweeeeeeeeeeeep

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Mhmmm. So the photo you have here of a woman on a pine bench in between 2 paintings. This is what I think. I think the painting on the right, the red with one line represents his repressed sexual desire and his obsession with female pubic hair to be in “landing strip” form. Then we move backwards to the green painting with 2 lines.

    On the colour wheel, in terms of retail clothing merchandising, green and pink are opposites and complement each other; However, he’s put 2 lines which obviously means “pause”. So he’s moving from a more balanced, complementary something or other and is overcome by his raging, unquenched sexual desire which is why it is on the right….it is the present state of mind. So there.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Dude reminds me of Talking Heads dude. And that’s way too deep a question for me to comprehend and thitherwithertheretofore answer.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. If I ever stoop to the glottal stop, my mother’s ghost will rise up from my garden, give me a swift clip round the lughole and mutter something scathing about Essex. And by that I mean “you’re welcome”.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Epiphany? Indeed.

    A reflection on Rothko so personal and moving it constricts my chest. I have seen some of his paintings, probably in Toronto. Paintings so intense, they suck in your soul and spits it back at you.

    Fine piece, friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks lots rg – why did I ever divorce you? Oh no wait, let’s not go over that again, I still can’t look at a hedgehog without screaming. Glad you liked it, it’s been lovely to write about it.


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