He's never left my mind, especially after encountering one of his large paintings at the San Francisco MoMA. For quite some time I have admired Mark Rothko's paintings; he has been my idol and during the last couple of semesters at the Hartford Art School, he was the inspiration for my large abstract paintings. His work was an obsession I couldn't shake off, and every time I looked through Rothko books at the library I would gasp for air and feel my soul wanting to escape from my body. This kind of response intensifies to greater heights when I come face to face with the real thing, and a few weeks ago I stood in front of No.14, 1960, mesmerized and speechless.
It was a painting difficult to miss. The large canvas at the end of the hall could be seen from galleries away, framed by multiple doorways as it hung on its wall like a light at the end of a long dark tunnel. As any Rothko painting, it called out to me; it enchanted me from afar and the closer I got to it the more it had me. Standing in front of a Mark Rothko painting is like being in the presence of the divine. No.14 towered over me and the color jumped from the surface intoxicating me. Quite an experience from an object constructed out of raw materials such as canvas, oil, pigment, and wooden stretchers. But Rothko had a way of creating magic with his materials, a gift that requires more than simple technical education from any painter.
Rothko was a blessed man. In each painting he tried to understand the mystery of life and through the use of bold color combinations and blurred rectangular shapes Rothko was able to materialize the power of emotions. I have begun to understand that a lot of his paintings are not representations of happy ideas or times. The intensity of his color and the immensity of the painting surface are overwhelming statements capable of bringing the viewer to tears. For a painting dominated by a fiery orange vermilion, No.14, is a deep and private work; it draws you into a dark space. Mission accomplished I have to say since for Rothko all that mattered most was that art show drama and tragedy.
As I got lost looking at the painting I didn't know whether if I should smile or cry, and this is not an exaggeration since the impact his work has on me can never be put into words. My body simply reacts in strong ways I've only felt when I've lost or gained something important in my life. I will never be able to put my finger on that it factor that Rothko has, but my reactions to his painting will not change as I come across more of his canvases hanging on museum walls.
*Photograph courtesy of Justin Ames