Silence is so accurate – Mark Rothko.

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Mark Rothko, Untitled,1949, National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation

“Silence is so accurate,” Mark Rothko

A member of the Colour field artists, I have a big appreciation for the work of Mark Rothko.

He is discussed clearly on the National Gallery of art website, here I have added part of the review of his ideas and work.

“One of the preeminent artists of his generation, Mark Rothko is closely identified with the New York School, a circle of painters that emerged during the 1940s as a new collective voice in American art. During a career that spanned five decades, he created a new and impassioned form of abstract painting.”

“Rothko’s work is characterized by rigorous attention to formal elements such as color, shape, balance, depth, composition, and scale; yet, he refused to consider his paintings solely in these terms. He explained: It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.”

Mark Rothko’s view to me is that it should matter immensely what it is that the artist is trying to convey… and for Mark it is contemplation, aimed at the non rhetoric, non figurative, something deeper and more real… that cannot be put into words and figures. Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 13.27.59.png

“By 1949 Rothko had introduced a compositional format that he would continue to develop throughout his career. Comprised of several vertically aligned rectangular forms set within a colored field, Rothko’s “image” lent itself to a remarkable diversity of appearances.

Like many New York artists of his generation, Rothko struggled with categorical distinctions between abstraction and representation and his ambition to invest nonfigurative art with transcendent content that would rival the elemental role of myth and ritual in archaic culture. In this regard, “unknown” pictorial space describes a realm that somehow surpasses two dimensions while avoiding the illusive three-dimensional space of conventional representation.

His classic paintings of the 1950s are characterized by expanding dimensions and an increasingly simplified use of form, brilliant hues, and broad, thin washes of color. In his large floating rectangles of color, which seem to engulf the spectator, he explored with a rare mastery of nuance the expressive potential of color contrasts and modulations.”

The Seagram murals are my favourite experience from Mark Rothko, a series of red, maroon, black and brown, designed to enfold the viewer into the colour field.

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Mark Rothko, Untitled (Seagram Mural sketch), 1959 , National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation,

“In their manifesto in the New York Times Rothko and Gottlieb had written: “We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.” By 1947 Rothko had virtually eliminated all elements of surrealism or mythic imagery from his works, and nonobjective compositions of indeterminate shapes emerged.”


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Mark Rothko, No. 17 [or] No. 15, 1949, National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation,

“Figurative associations and references to the natural world disappeared from Rothko’s paintings of the late 1940s. Linear elements were progressively eliminated as asymmetrically arranged patches of color became the basis of his compositions. The paintings of 1947-1949 are sometimes referred to as multiforms to distinguish them from the more distilled compositions that follow. Certain multiforms retain the play of figure, line, and ground that Rothko employed in his works on paper from 1944-1946, and various textural effects are directly related to his experiments in watercolor and gouache.”

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Mark Rothko, No. 9,1948, National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation

“For him, eschewing representation permitted greater clarity, “the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea and between the idea and the observer.” As examples of such obstacles, Rothko gave “memory, history, or geometry, which are swamps of generalization from which one might pull out parodies of ideas (which are ghosts) but never an idea in itself. To achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood.”
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Mark Rothko, Untitled [Blue, Green, and Brown],1952 (alternatively dated to 1951), Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia

“In these paintings, color and structure are inseparable: the forms themselves consist of color alone, and their translucency establishes a layered depth that complements and vastly enriches the vertical architecture of the composition. Variations in saturation and tone as well as hue evoke an elusive yet almost palpable realm of shallow space. Color, structure, and space combine to create a unique presence. In this respect, Rothko stated that the large scale of these canvases was intended to contain or envelop the viewer–not to be “grandiose,” but “intimate and human.”

Mark Rothko, for me has caught the essence of what I find amazing in colour and art, the ability to move you, move the emotions and something deeper. The non figurative colour forms affect me, how I believe some people feel when they walk through the galleries of Turner and Van Goth, but leave me non-plussed as I head for the coffee bar… but a colour field artists gallery makes me stand still in joy.



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