Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Mark Rothko

After the Centre Georges Pompidou opened in 1977, I'd often go visit on my days off. With whoever was special in my life at the time, friends, work colleagues, or visitors from out of town. Or just on my own. I lived within walking distance. It was cheap to get in, one day a week it was free.
Sometimes, it would just be to go hang out in the open area overlooking the building's entrance.
That area had quickly become an extra-ordinary place and space, an attraction in itself. A public forum for what was, essentially, commedia dell'arte. Impromptu entertainment provided by an assortment of very accomplished musicians, mime artists, actors, magicians, jugglers, sword swallowers, and story tellers. To be there would always temporarily restore my failing faith in myself and the world at large.
Sometimes, I would go in and explore the modern art. And that is where I discovered the paintings of Mark Rothko. I had dimly heard of him, probably seen reproductions of his work. But to see his paintings was a revelation that became a comfort.
It is very difficult to explain this. Most of the Rothkos in the museum were very large canvases. At first sight they appeared as just solid colour, usually a very dark-bluish black. That's it, that's all.
But in my wanderings around the museum, after all the razzle and dazzle elsewhere, I'd invariably make my way back to the very big room with the very big Rothkos and sit there and look at them. And in spending time there, I began to realize that if I watched a Rothko long enough, I began to see (imagine?) slight variations across the canvas. What looked like flat paint upon a flat canvas slowly revealed itself as having an unsuspected depth. That a cursory glance was treacherous, what seemed monotonous and minimal had (hidden?) charms. But over and above all that, the paintings spoke to me of serenity. A quality I sorely lacked, except when passed out. A quality I sought, desperately craved. And so I sat there and considered those paintings in their dark silence.
Why Rothko, now? Prompted by this post from elsewhere.

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