around the turn of the millennium i went with my parents and maternal grandmother to the centennial art exhibit dedicated to 20th century AMERICAN ART at the old upper east side location of the WHITNEY MUSEUM in NYC. in their were the expected POP ARTISTS and ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISTS but i discovered a new favorite through an unlikely source, my clueless ENGLISH grandmother. "this is shit" is what i remembered her saying and what looked me dead in the eye was a late black-on-black painting by notable ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST (although he detested that label) immigrant painter MARK ROTHKO. "i could paint that!"
yeah, but you didnt.
if something pissed off my grandmother that immediately and that viscerally then i already loved it by default. its her side of the family that made me sit through FOX NEWS at the kitchen table and LITTLE RIVER BAND concerts, so yeah, karma is a bitch.
that aside, what i love about his work is how it draws you in. reminds me quite a bit of the zazen meditation sessions i experienced at the SOJI-JI temple in YOKOHAMA. when sitting doing nothing your mind first races but then gradually settles and you find yourself paradoxically more attuned to your surroundings as you become unaware of them. even in a vacuum there is still that space and the experience of it. its hard to explain. when i see the work of ROTHKO i am not there looking at nothing, but experiencing the space, taking note of the edges of color and the infinite possibilities available in that border. eventually i don't notice anything and i am just there.
i do not know if ROTHKO was interested in BUDDHIST concepts of SUNYATA ("emptiness") but his art relays such to me. one of my desired vacation destinations within the UNITED STATES is the ROTHKO CHAPEL outside of HOUSTON where 14 of his late black-hued paintings are displayed.
i very much would like to sit quietly and observe that space one day. just experience all that nothingness.
there was a period in high school after i arrived in SACRAMENTO my senior year where somehow i became familiar with the works of late 19th century AUSTRIAN ART NOVEAU artist GUSTAV KLIMT and the SECESSIONIST movement associated with him.
i think part of my fascination was wanting to be somewhere other than conservative, white bread NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, as KLIMT's art is lusciously decorated with gold and exotic motifs the relay some otherworldly realm of beauty and perfection. then there was EGON SCHIELE.
through KLIMT i learned of this upstart from the following generation that drew these brutally revolting self portraits that could not be more the polar opposite. his drawings convey bodies suspended without in a white plain colored in earth tones that seemed to reference decomposition and self-annihilation. his drawings are nihilistic and reduced humanity down to gangly misshapen limbs and soulless countenance that has more to do with a cadaver than an individual. around this period and i took BIOLOGY where we were taken to the UC DAVIS cadaver lab when i was able to view such lifeless forms out in the open. it immediately reminded me of SCHIELE and his work has been ingrained in my consciousness ever since, outshining that of KLIMT in my opinion.
to me art should challenge the viewer and SCHIELE makes me consider my mortality and my physical being, echoing the visceral nature of CARAVAGGIO, and later 20th century work of FRANCIS BACON and MARK ROTHKO. for me his work is deeply affecting and not always in an uplifting, reassuring manner. his has a definite memento mori vibe that sticks in the craw of your consciousness.
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