Color Inspiration: Rothko

Saturday afternoon, we wandered over the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to see an extensive collection of paintings by Mark Rothko in Mark Rothko: A Retrospective.

Most are very familiar with the monumental color-blocked paintings of the later half of his career, but this exhibition, organized by the National Gallery of Art, also pulls from his early years, tracing his devolution from figurative works into Abstract Expressionism. I had never seen his early work before; walking through the show you trace the pieces of body in certain paintings dissolving into soft forms in others, then finally a focus on color in the entirety of the canvas.

To understand his arrival at this point:

"I paint very large pictures, I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is something very grandiose and pompous. The reason I paint them precisely because I want to be intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside our experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn't something you command." - Mark Rothko on his work in 1951

Aside from the immediate visceral reaction these paintings command, the popularity of his work also owes an equal amount to his uncanny sense of color.

Allowing these dramatic examples of color time to percolate in my mind gives pause to appreciate the more mundane instances that bubble up later. 🍊

In addition, Houston, through the incredible foresight of the de Menil's, is home to the Rothko Chapel, which houses a permanent collection of monumental paintings by Rothko. If you live or are visiting Houston, it is a must see.