Both Sides Now

Apologies for yet another blog in which Rothko is discussed. I can’t help but mine this rich opportunity of having his work and the play Red in our city. It opens the discussion about the more esoteric and mysterious aspects of art-making.  At the same time it is the perfect foil for discussing the formal elements of art, most notably, composition, with which we so often struggle.  Without good composition, all of the meaning, pathos, poetry and technique of pushing paint are reduced to a loose collection of unrelated ideas that rarely entices the viewer to stop and look.

Both sides of the proverbial coin– First Bruce Gunther, the curator of Modern Art at the Portland Art Museum speaks about Mark Rothko’s paintings.  (From a press talk at the museum in Feb.) It talks about the work in nonfigurative terms and leads the way to discussing art at a deeper level.

Then there is a link to The Painter’s Keys, a blog by Canadian artist, Robert Genn, which I occasionally reference.  Genn’s ideas are a more concrete way to think about the process.  His recent blog discusses composition in a particularly salient manner giving well-stated guidelines to good composition.

The mere fact that there is a spectrum this wide in which we can think about what we do with a piece of paper continues to fascinate.

My notes taken as Bruce Guenther spoke on Rothko:

The paintings are a container for all the threads of influence, ideas, and emotions that the artist experiences.

The surface expands and compresses working together in an optical experience that charges emotively as the viewer approaches. One feels connectivity with the quality of the Portland air, which surely influenced his work.

To Rothko, a formalist, the subject is secondary to the structure of the space.  Building the chiaroscuro up from the surface, the figure (subject) emerges from the background.

He eliminates drawing as the structure of the picture allowing color to form the imagery.  (An “emptying out” of line.)

He provides a cue or a prompt to open the door to the sensuality of color and light, rather than a specific image.

The paintings feel as if they are screening something from behind the surface, inviting the viewer into another world.

(Other Abstract Expressionists like Kline and DeKooning hold on to gesture)

Robert Genn’s “Six Compositional Boo Boos”:

Enjoy the dialogue….



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