Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sinking into Rothko

On Monday, the last day of our first mini-heatwave of the year, I went to London's South Bank to stroll among the tourists and drop into Tate Modern. I was delighted to find that the Rothko room has made a welcome return. This low-lit space houses seven enormous canvases of sombre maroons and blacks by the great abstract expressionist.

This is one of my favourite spaces in London. I spent a good hour looking deeply into and through these window shapes. Now, in one sense, these paintings are just slabs of colour. Up close you can see that Rothko took great care in how he applied the paint, going over parts of the canvas with different shades of the dominant colour which, as you step back from it, gives the painting enormous depth.

The 'windows frames' seem solid and so as you look, you are invited to fall through them into whatever lies beyond. In the swirling pale maroon of the canvas illustrated, there is the suggestion of light, as if the sun is shining behind gossamer clouds. It's also possible to feel that the light is edging towards the centre of the painting where the viewer stands as it were by the open window.

In many ways, the Rothko room is a sacred space; it's a place where people, if they've the patience to sit and look intently through one of the windows, are asked questions about where they sit in the world, the universe beyond, about whether the light approaching them will illuminate their lives. Great art gently evokes big questions and has the good grace not to provide clunking great answers.

If I were running Tate Modern, there's only one thing I'd do to make the Rothko room perfect: I'd only let people in on the understanding that they would not leave for an hour. This would prevent one's meditation being interrupted by parties of people catching the greatest collection of modern art on their cell phone cameras between elevenses and lunch!


Anonymous said...

What a load of pretentious crap. You've fallen into the trap of believing all that modern art-speak. They are just big blocks of colour that art critics decided to call art.

I thought as a vicar your mind would be on higher things, not just a load of vacuous nonsense spouted by people who wear black roll neck sweaters and think modern conceptual art is something worth praising.

If that's what inspires you - then it's a very sad day indeed.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree!