Friday, October 31, 2008


"The progression of a painter's work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer." --Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1953, National Gallery of Art, Washington,
Gift of the Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.

An abstract painting is an archive of decisions. Painting is a process of learning what to keep and what to let go of. A lot of painting happens by sitting around and looking, looking at the painting from all angles, feeling what's missing, what needs tweaking, where the color is unbalanced or too heavy. A lot of painting also happens by looking at and studying other painters' paintings.

Rothko. He seemed to instinctively know how to achieve fullness through emptiness -- his work communes with me on a level that is very close to my own visual ideals: repetition, color, luminosity, containment, infinity.

Briony Fer, in her wonderful book, The Infinite Line, observes that "there is something very distinctive and indeed extreme about Rothko's insistence that repetition should serve rather than subvert the redemptive function of the picture." She continues:
Rothko's repetition, of course, rarely gets talked about as repetition. Instead it is called his 'classic' or 'signature style'....Rothko's template of an upright rectangular canvas, with a stack of rectangular forms, endlessly differentiated, endlessly nuanced, is both stringent and flexible. It invites a subtle discernment of the differences that occur, even as it repeats. Likewise, there are colour repetitions and colour differences mobilised within the basic schema....Rothko himself once told a friend why it was worth repeating: 'If a thing is worth doing once, it is worth doing over and over again -- exploring it, probing it, demanding by this repetition that the public look at it.' There is something voracious about the demand, the demand to look, commanding attention through repetition, a concentration of mind.
There is something in my own appetite for looking, for probing, for exploring every nuance available through repetition, that resonates with Rothko's words. Rothko, unlike the minimalists, continually reworked a basic format in order to reach the transcendent potential of painting. Sublime yet intimate, his work summons a meditative or contemplative gaze while concomitantly invoking ecstasy and tragedy.

(The above quotes are taken from The Infinite Line, by Briony Fer, pages 6-8.)


Dianne McNaughton said...

I would like to put a list of quotes from favourite blogs on my blog, I would like to use "An abstract painting is an archive of decisions" with a link to your site on your name, if you are okay with this? Love Di

Diane McGregor said...

Yes, thank you, Dianne -- I would be honored if you used my quote.

Anonymous said...

I never used to see why Rothko's paintings were thought of as spiritual and transcendent works until I saw them for real at the Tate Gallery, London, Wow....