Getting started

Blogging officially is a totally new experience and a learning process, so bear with me while I go through it!

At art auction international my latest blog included a reaction to a Mark Rothko exhibition. Here it is again:

One of my experiences in Hamburg, where I visited my son, was a visit to the big Mark Rothko exhibition there. They call it a retrospective and it worked through his creative periods quite systematically, landing, of course, at the famous canvases we all know to be his final “attack” on the visual concept of abstract art. I had read a bit about him and had problems imagining what it would be to deliberately deny myself the joy of painting a flower or an aimal or anything else remotely recognizable. I don’t think I understand him, but I have learnt something for myself that is making me stand back from my own work.

So what is it about Rothko (born 1903) that fascinates people? One thing is clear. Viewers might say his work is peaceful, but it infuriated him when people told him that. His work is, he says, painful, a struggle. He arrived at his finished works through a long process of decision and indecision. Towards the end of his life he suffered from illhealth caused, apparently, by overeating, too much smoking and too much alcohol. He had heart disease and his doctor told him to give up smoking, overeating, drinking, and painting large paintings. The only advice he took was about the painting, reducing the size of his works considerably. But he could not have been happy and certainly he was unhappy about his failing health, so much so that in 1970 he committed suicide. A sad end.

I found myself speculating about his life, his death, his painting – a whole lot of works are very dark. Black predominates and he prefered these paintings to be hung in dark rooms, but at this exhibition the rooms were lit normally. I sat in front of a huge, almost black 2×3 meter large painting for quite a while. The painting seemed to want to jump off the wall. Then I found myself wondering what a canvas must feel like when the painter sets out to cover it in paint. If I were a canvas, would I want to be covered in dark paint with no shapes apart from squares and oblongs, sometimes hardly descernible? And would I want to paint like that? Wouldn’t it drive me nuts?

Yesterday I tried to invoke the feeling Rothko might have had while painting one of those works – but not one of the dark ones – I’m not ready for that. I took a large sheet of bright orange photo card and put it on my easel. Then I covered it in pale pink pastel, worked yellows into the borders and various shades of red in two large patches. I used a lot of physical energy and worked really fast. I blended the colours with the palms of my hands. I tried to get a feeling of being part of the painting, but of course, the boundaries of a canvas or paper support are finite. Infinity is what the viewer might experience while looking at it. The whole action took about 30 minutes and the pastel painting is at the top of this blog. I know it’s fake Rothko, though I did not copy one of his paintings. But it isn’t fake me. There is no feeling of wanting to send a message through the painting. I am not looking for beauty or perfection of form. I chose colours from the warm scale, but used a bluish red to add light to the painting.

apologies to Rothko
apologies to Rothko

And do you know? I’m hooked. I have a strong desire to paint another “Rothko”, to explore the possibilities open to me once I shake off the need to create a likeness or suggest an interpretation. And if I got a step nearer to what motivated Rothko himself, then he has done his job well. R.I.P.

Thanks for reading


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