Mark Rothko - Orange and Yellow, 1956
I was up late on Monday night. I channel surfed onto this fascinating documentary on PBS on the life of one of my favorite artists, Mark Rothko. It's part of a series called Simon Schama's Power of Art. As it is with a lot of modern art, Rothko's work either grabs you immediately or it doesn't. In this format, the works do not have the impact that they do in the museum. This particular painting is 7 feet by 6 feet, and it is imposing - purposely. Stop by the East Building of the National Gallery in D.C. or the Guggenheim in New York for a stunning experience.
"I also hang the largest pictures so that they must be first encountered at close quarters, so that the first experience is to be within the picture. This may well give the key to the observer of the ideal relationship between himself and the rest of the pictures. I also hang the pictures low rather than high, and particularly in the case of the largest ones, often as close to the floor as is feasible, for that is the way they are painted."
One thing that reinforced my high opinion of Rothko and his art was a story that related to his work. In 1958, he was commissioned by The Four Seasons restaurant at the Seagram Building in New York, to paint a mural for display in the restaurant. He visited the restaurant with his wife, and after seeing the prices of the items on the menu and the opulent surroundings, ordered the paintings removed, and returned the $35,000 paid to him. "Anybody who will eat that kind of food for those kind of prices will never look at a painting of mine," he told his studio assistant. You gotta love a guy like that.
As with many great artists, he was a tortured soul. Mark Rothko was found on the morning of February 25, 1970; lying dead in a wine-dark sea of his own blood. He had cut very deep into his arms at the elbow, and the pool emanating from him on the floor of his studio measured 8 feet x 6 feet. That is, it was on the scale of his paintings. It was, to borrow the art critical language of the time, a colour field.
"The people who weep before my paintings are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them." - Mark Rothko.