photo manipulation by nacrowe
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.
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da
"Judith Beheading Holofernes" (1598), oil on canvas, Galleria Nazionale dell'Arte Antica Rome
CARAVAGGIO was a 16/17th century italian painter during the counter-reformation. that's all well and good, but the reason i adore his work is the visceral realism they portray. his figures don't seem to be a part of some faint idyllic plane, as most religious paintings of the period i've experienced seeming do. in his paintings, CARAVAGGIO's figures deal with issues of aging, decay, indulgence, exhaustion and pain. especially pain.
his work is well worth seeking out if you get the opportunity. a few are scattered throughout the united states. luckily four of his works are part of the permanent collection at THE MET, two on current display being "THE MUSICIANS" (1597) and "THE DENIAL OF ST. PETER" (1610), but most of his notable works are at museums and catholic churches and cathedrals across italy.
embedded below is an excellent BBC documentary by COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY art history professor SIMON SCHAMA as part of his 2006 "POWER OF ART" series. it is worth watching.