photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
nearly two decades ago i was introduced to the work of MARK ROTHKO at 20th century retrospective of AMERICAN ART at THE WHITNEY at its old UPPER EAST SIDE location. i remember it with clarity because i attended this event with my parents and grandmother, who became visually and verbally upset when confronted with one of his RENOWNED COLOR FIELD PAINTINGS. she could not handle the fact that this painting was varying shades of black. for me there was no turning back. anyone that pissed off my grandmother was alright in my book and thus my interest in ROTHKO began in earnest.
THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO (ICARUS, 2016) is a recent documentary that attempts to present the ABSTRACT PAINTER and his work as he intentioned it. assisting with this endeavor is his adult son CHRISTOPHER, who reads aloud his words and acts as a stand-in narrator of sorts. it is mentioned that he has a similar voice to that of his father. all this being said, ROTHKO and his COLOR FIELD PAINTINGS are deliberately OPAQUE and AMBIGUOUS to being with. it is as if the ARTIST is painting EMOTION on a purely SUB-COGNITIVE level. ever the CONTRARIAN, the film states that according to ROTHKO an ACADEMIC FORMAL ANALYSIS of his work via discussion of TRADITIONAL aspects like FORM, COLOR, TECHNIQUE, REPRESENTATION or ABSTRACTION are WELL-INTENTIONED but WRONG. he hoped for his work to be experienced, not watched. it feels like his work is an attempt at DECONSTRUCTING and REFRAMING the entire discussion surrounding WESTERN ART in an almost MARCEL DUCHAMP-ian manner. what is ART and who decides?
my experience when confronted with ROTHKO's PAINTINGS is the INTENSE MEDITATIVE QUALITY to them, where in these meticulously labored over border regions are subtle borderlines that seem to intimate INFINITY. i think ROTHKO saw his PAINTINGS as a PURE DISTILLATION and EXPRESSION of HUMAN EMOTION, including our individual capacity for VIOLENCE and FEAR of DEATH. i look at them and i feel like i am in the presence of the SUBLIME. my hope is to one day visit the ROTHKO CHAPEL outside of HOUSTON, arguably the only existing presentation of his work sanctioned by the ARTIST.
not sure what to make of THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO. i came into this documentary CONFUSED about MARK ROTHKO and i left CONFUSED, but that probably says more about my SHALLOW inability to intellectually COMPREHEND the VAST META-NARRATIVES that the ARTIST is involved in. or maybe all that conceptual and philosophical talk is SUPERFLUOUS to the UNIQUE EXPERIENCE of just walking up and taking in one of his DISTINCT COLOR FIELD PAINTINGS with an open mind and open heart. you know, unlike my grandmother. thats my opinion at least.