Friday, April 10, 2009

Darkness Upon Darkness

Mark Rothko is my favorite artist. His works have often been domesticated by being reproduced in small versions (like, say, on a computer monitor) that don't capture that these pieces of canvas are bigger than your front door and full of multiple layers and washes and bits of surprising color. Tonight at the Good Friday service our pastor used the phrase "darkness upon darkness" to describe our time. It brought to mind the troubled life of Rothko, one illustrated simply by viewing his paintings in order. By the end of his life he was painting canvases all black, it was "darkness upon darkness." So for the Holy Weekend here are representations of Rothko's work, in chronological order:











2 comments:

Katie said...

ben - I'm really glad you posted this...I was just in DC at the national gallery of art (didn't have time for the modern art gallery, which would make this question even more urgent for me, I'm sure), and I've always had a tough time with the "what is art" question. The the cynical, myopic side, I think I could reproduce this art...but then, I know that's foolish because clearly there is something talent and emotion-filled that I'm missing. A friend described my issue with not seeing lines on canvas as "art" as not understanding different styles...what do you think? Give me more about why you resonate with his art so much (if you would). Of course, anyone can see the change in his work over time, which may be more intriguing than all of my above questions...

BenMc said...

Well, there's definitely a lot of this kind of art that I don't get -- and I've only gotten "into" Rothko in the past year, so this is just my kind of introduction too. For me it comes down to context, the story and history that goes along with each painter. So it's history as much as art. Simon Schaama, a great TV historian, introduced me to Rothko with a series (something like The Power of Art) on different artists who "fought" with the world around them. Picasso, Caravaggio, Bernini, and Rothko was the most recent. The stories are fascinating, especially when (in the case of Caravaggio and others) they have an element of faith struggles in them. So I'd start with the stories, not the pictures, because it's the human making the pictures who's the most interesting artwork of all! I'd also see Rothko in person, and walk close and walk far, looking as each painting as a door. It's a TOTALLY different experience from the pictures on the monitor. Hope that makes a little sense!

(I have a Rothko story involving Aidan from the DC National Gallery by the way ... I'll have to tell you sometime!)