Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Anecdote of the Spirit

Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, USA.

Mark Rothko was born on this date in 1903. He is generally classified as an abstract expressionist painter, although he did not approve of such a classification. I view his work as being closer in spirit to the post-painterly work of later color field artists, such as Helen Frankenthaler. The essence of Rothko's work is the exploration of color in rectangular compositions, multiforms, and their representation of emotional or spiritual states.

To be honest, I was disdainful of Rothko's work in my youth. His paintings looked like vague blocks of random colors to my untrained eye. Certainly, some were attractive in a meaningless decorative manner. Other were obscure and ugly. But I felt no significance behind these random color globs.

Then I heard Morton Feldman's 1971 composition Rothko Chapel, inspired by titular building in which fourteen black paintings by Rothko are featured. In Feldman's music, I could feel the spiritual significance of the paintings. The drifting rhythms and indeterminate compositional style of the music captured the profound apophatic aesthetic that Rothko was expressing.

Orange and Yellow (1956) by Mark Rothko

So I "got" Rothko. But I still didn't adore him. My disdain was replaced by respect, but his work was still not my thing. Then I took a trip to Washington DC. Among the things I wanted to see during this trip was Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party at the Phillips Collection. The Renoir was absolutely amazing, putting me into a positive state of mind and full of aesthetic contemplation. And then I wandered into the nearby Rothko Room. In my receptive state of mind, the psychological intensity of the paintings hit me like a lightning bolt.

I felt like a new type of cognition had been opened in my mind.

It took an assist from Feldman and Renoir, but Rothko finally "spoke" to me. In these colorful "clouds of unknowing" the ineffable states of the Spirit were signified. It was awesome!

Earth and Green (1955) by Mark Rothko

Here are some bits of Feldman's Rothko Chapel:


No comments:

Post a Comment