Sometimes the only way to truly understand an artist's oeuvre is to carefully look through their complete catalogue of works, tracing the changes in style until you can appreciate their overarching focus.

Or at least, that's how I came to be an avid Mark Rothko fan. 

I first saw a few works from the Russian-American painter during my teenage days as an art student at Woodbrook Secondary School; suffice it to say, I was not impressed by colour-blocking works that seemed simplistic enough for me to (poorly) appropriate on my lunch break.

Much later, I switched out studio art for art history and was forced to revisit Rothko's paintings, subsequently encountering the earlier, symbolic works which eventually lead to those spartan abstractions now associated with his name.

And then, I got it.

The surfaces of his numbered Colour Field pieces, as art historian Dore Ashton had put it, "were velvety as poems of the night..." and were mesmerizing to behold. This wasn't the work of some artsy con-man attempting to pull wool over the viewers' eyes, to make one feel daft for not 'getting it.'  The tonal paintings were the result of a sublime, reductionist search for some deeper understanding of the human condition.

At any rate, that's what I tell myself every time I gaze, dumbfounded, at one of his intensely layered paintings. 

Happy Birthday, Mark Rothko...


NB Images Courtesy Wikipedia

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