Posts Tagged ‘Mark Rothko’


Mark Rothko- Red and Black 1968


A painting is not a picture of an experience, but is the experience.

Mark Rothko
This quote from Mark Rothko made me stop this morning. I hear a lot of artists talk about capturing a moment with their work. I am pretty sure those words have come out of my mouth when I am just blathering on. But a piece of art works best when it causes the viewer (for visual artists) to feel as though they are experiencing something new in that moment when they stand in front of it.
Not a representation of a moment but a moment in itself.
But how do you do that?
I can’t really say for sure. Maybe it comes in being fully engaged emotionally during the creation of the work. Perhaps that moment of emotion becomes part of the piece and it is that which the viewer senses and experiences in the work.
I don’t really know but it is something I will consider when I am in front of the easel in a few minutes.

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What was Avery’s repertoire? His living room, Central Park, his wife Sally, his daughter March, the beaches and mountains where they summered; cows, fish heads, the flight of birds; his friends and whatever world strayed through his studio: a domestic, unheroic cast. But from these there have been fashioned great canvases, that far from the casual and transitory implications of the subjects, have always a gripping lyricism, and often achieve the permanence and monumentality of Egypt.

Mark Rothko, 1965


While not a huge fan of the paintings of Milton Avery upon my first encounters with it, I find myself respecting and appreciating his work the more I look at and read about it.

Born in 1885, Avery worked blue-collar jobs into his thirties. He felt a desire to paint and began taking classes while still toiling as a laborer, working in obscurity for many years. He moved from pure representation of his subjects to an abstracted representation built on blocks of color and a flattening of the picture plane that became his signature style. His work eventually was recognized by a wealthy collector who set out to make it better known by distributing it among various American museums.

It worked and Avery became a leading light of the early abstract movement with his abstracted takes on representation and was considered a master colorist, sometimes referred to as the American Matisse. He died in 1965 at the age of 80.

I find that there are commonalities between us that give me a better sense of his work. First, there is his late entry in the world of art and a prior existence as a blue-collar worker. I certainly can relate to that.

Then there is his use of blocks of color, especially colors that seem radical for the subject. Looking at his work, I can easily relate to how he composed his paintings, how each block of color relates to those around it.

I also like the fact that Mark Rothko pointed out the lyricism of his work which refers to the fact that his painting, even when the subject matter seems most mundane, has high emotional notes that give it great weight beyond the subject matter. That lyric quality is something I desire in my own work.

I also like some of the writings from Avery especially one quote that rings true for me:

I try to construct a picture in which shapes, spaces, colors, form a set of unique relationships, independent of any subject matter. At the same time I try to capture and translate the excitement and emotion aroused in me by the impact with the original idea.

That is exactly what I trying to do– trying to capture the excitement and emotion aroused in me— each day in the studio. I think I often use those very words when talking about my work practices.

So, these common bonds allow me me to see Avery’s work in a better light. I find myself liking the consistency of his work, how he confidently used his native voice to express himself.

Respect is now there.

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“Art is such an action. It is a kindred form of action to idealism. They are both expressions of the same drive, and the man who fails to fulfill this urge in one form or another is as guilty of escapism as the one who fails to occupy himself with the satisfaction of bodily needs. In fact, the man who spends his entire life turning the wheels of industry so that he has neither time nor energy to occupy himself with any other needs of his human organism is by far a greater escapist than the one who developed his art. For the man who develops his art does make adjustments to his physical needs. He understands that man must have bread to live, while the other cannot understand that you cannot live by bread alone.” 

― Mark Rothko, The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art


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GC Myers- That Rare Moment smPictures must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended.

Mark Rothko


I came across the words above from the late painter Mark Rothko and found myself relating very much to their meaning.  The process of creating a picture is ideally a period of intimacy, one where the maker  ideally opens their self and exposes their totality to the surface.  There is a transference of energy and knowledge in that moment that forms the new life taking place on that surface.

Each move, each change to the surface pulls bits from the inner stores of the creator and alters the new reality being formed.  For a rare moment, the two entities– the maker and the surface–are are locked together.  They are one.

But as the picture takes shape and form, beginning to express its own life force, it moves away from the maker.  It is its own being at that point, beyond the reach and influence of the maker.

As a maker of pictures, I can say that this moment is both wistfully sad and exhilarating.  When that moment of completion is at hand I immediately miss that time of transference, so full of possibility.  But seeing the new picture, self-contained and speaking for itself, brings a kind of parental pride.  I know that I will never be as close to that picture as I was in that moment.  But that moment binds us forever, even if it will be always as a faint memory when I glimpse its image in the future.

I chose the piece at the top for this post- fittingly titled That Rare Moment– because what I could have been writing solely about this piece.  This painting, an 8″ by 24″ canvas, was very much created with in the process that I described.

There was a definite moment of transference when this painting made the leap from being me to being it.  In the days after it was complete, I would look at it and sigh with that mix of sadness and pride.  It is beyond me now and speaks with its own voice, its own meaning that will no doubt soon express itself to someone other than me.

And they will hopefully experience their own rare moment….


This painting is part of my solo show, Contact, at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY.  The show opens FridayJuly 22, 2016 with an opening reception that runs from 5-7:30 PM.  There is also an accompanying Gallery Talk that takes place on August 6.  More details on that later.

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mark_rothkoIt is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted […] There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.

Mark Rothko


I have often said, often without much grace, that the subject for a painting is secondary, not really that important so long as the painting says something, expresses feeling and evokes emotion within the viewer.  I think the work of Mark Rothko is a good example of this sentiment. They are simple of blocks of opposing colors set one over the other or, as in the case of the piece above, one alongside another.

Seemingly without subject.

Seemingly about nothing.

But as Rothko states, there is no such thing as a good painting about nothing.  And this is a good painting.  It allows the viewer’s own emotions into its space, lets their own story become the story and subject of this work.  That space is the subject and purpose of this work.

So, every picture does tell a story.  Some dictate the story, forcing the viewer to follow a set storyline through the picture as though they were the plot of a murder-mystery novel.  Others do so like a song or poetry, evoking feeling with a suggestion or a gentle nudge.  The viewer here is complicit in the fulfillment of the art.

For myself, I prefer the latter but have enjoyed works with more obvious subjects.  Perhaps not as deeply felt but enjoyable nonetheless.  I still question where my work falls on this scale.  I am sure it has been both and I know I am much more satisfied when it appears more poetic.  But being able to dictate the nature of the work is often beyond me.  It sometimes appears in the poetic form seemingly on its own, without my direction.

And that is most satisfying.  And elusive.

All this being said is mere pretense for this week’s Sunday Morning Music.  It’s a cover of Rod Stewart‘s classic song, Every Picture Tells a Story, done by the Georgia Satellites back in 1986.  I always liked their version of this song and hope it’ll kick off your Sunday on a high note.  Have a great day!

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Rothko Number 14Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.

–Mark Rothko


I don’t think there is anything that I can add to this except to nod silently in agreement.

Have a great day.

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Geloven Onderweg CoverI just received a copy of a Dutch magazine, Geloven Onderweg, which loosely translates into English as Go Believe.  I mention this because it contains an image of one of my paintings, Archaeology: Rainbow’s End, as the illustration for one of its articles.  I was approached a few months back about the possibility of using the image in this magazine which is published by the Dominican order in the Netherlands.

The article is written by Jakob Van Wielink and is titled  Archeoloog wit een mild hart which translates as Archaeologist With a Mild Heart.  Beyond that, there is little I can tell you about the article or any of the other writing in this issue.  However, I can tell you that the  theme of this issue is outlined on the cover with Trust and the Future in Dutch under the image of a small boy confronting a Mark Rothko painting.  Interesting image…

They used my painting in a lovely manner with the image in the upper right hand corner of a two page spread with the image also used as a half-tone underlay.  It looks good and I am pleased to be able to have my work exposed in some small way in the Netherlands.

Geloven Onderweg Article 2014


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earl-kerkam1891-1965-1361546399_org I am very interested in the painter’s painter, those artists who garner the respect and  admiration of other artists while often not attaining the same sort of attention from the general public.  I try to figure out where the disconnect comes in how these artists are perceived so differently by these two groups.  I recently came across a prime example by the name of Earl Kerkam, a NY painter who lived from 1891 until 1965.

Kerkam trained in some of the finest art academies here and abroad, studying for a while with Robert Henri.  He showed his work in important shows alongside some of the greats of the early 20th century.  His work is included in some of the great museum collections of this country.  In the aftermath of his death,  modern artists of huge stature  such as  Mark Rothko and Willem  de Kooning proclaimed Kerkam to be one of the finest painters to ever emerge from America.

earl-kerkam1891-1965self-portrait-1361546314_bYet his work is basically unknown outside a handful of art insiders.  His work sells of very modest prices at auction and I doubt if anyone who reads this will have ever heard the name.

There could be many reasons for this relative anonymity.  Perhaps his work is too esoteric, too caught up in the dogma of style or too narrow in its range of emotional impact.  Perhaps his work was caught between eras, never really falling into a classification where he would be swept to the forefront of a wave. This might have something to do with it because, while his work is modern, it never really moved into the realm of the abstract expressionism that was the rage of the day.

I don’t really know and looking at his work I found myself torn between liking it in some instances and being indifferent to  others.  I can see how both sides, artists and the  general public, might take opposing views on his work.  His work remains an enigma to me and I don’t know if I will ever see enough of it, or at least a single piece that could be called a masterwork,  to make me say that he deserves to be among the beacons of mid-20th century painting  or if he was simply a fine painter who garnered just the attention his work deserved.   But for now, the name Earl Kerkam is at least on my radar and I will be open to finding other works from him that will move my perceptions.

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Julia Margaret Cameron- Whisper of the Muse-Portrait of GF WattsI came across this photo from Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian era  British photographer whose work I find tremendously interesting and forward leaning.  I have featured her work here before, with photos titled Sadness and Iago.  This photo from 1865 is titled Whisper of the Muse/Portrait of GF Watts  once again shows off the painterly eye that marks Cameron’s work as she portrays the renowned painter of the time amid two young girls.

I liked the image and it piqued my interest as to GF Watts‘ work.  I had heard the name but couldn’t recall his work so I decided to give a quick look.  An interesting guy, one who fell from favor at one point after his death and has found renewed interest.  Some of his work is Pre-Raphaelite in its appearance, very appealing and beautiful but falling into the genre to the point it became hard to distinguish it from other painters working in the same time.

But there was a piece that really captured my eye.  Titled After the Deluge (The Forty-First Day) it is an almost abstract depiction of the world after the biblical flood, the sun dominating in bursts of warm tones .  It was such an anomalous and powerful piece, more Van Gogh and modern in feel than Pre-raphaelite.  It evokes Mark Rothko, to bring it even further into the future. I found it just amazing.  It was on display at the National Galleries of Scotland last year in an exhibit titled Van Gogh to Kandinsky/ Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910.  This is how they described Watts’ work:

George Frederic Watts took his role as an artist to a high calling, stating: ‘I paint ideas, not things’. For him, landscape provided elements which he could transform to project profound meaning via natural grandeur, as in his large, imposing painting After the Deluge: The Forty-First Day. This simple image – a vast sun hanging over an expanse of calm, unbroken water – is far from a mere sunset; it evokes the cosmic energy of a star.

I love the quote– I paint ideas, not things.  Something to hold to.  Here’s the painting in question:


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I ran into my neighbor a few weeks back while walking out my driveway to get my newspaper.  We chit-chatted for a few moments and he told me that he and his partner had recently seen the theatrical show Red in NYC.  It’s about the artist Mark Rothko, played onstage by Alfred Molina who gave what my neighbor described as a dazzling performance.

As we parted and I headed back, I began to think of how little I knew of Rothko and his life.  I knew a number of his paintings, especially his signature works which are called multi-forms by critics and collectors.  The pieces shown here are examples of this work.  I have always been drawn to these paintings, especially when confronted by them in museums.  They are normally large in size and have two blocks of color placed one over the other.  They often have a blurred, almost fuzzy appearance created by multiple layers of paint that creates a preternatural glow in some of the colors. 

I have thought many of these to be exceptionally beautiful and meditative,  finding myself mesmerized by the aura of these paintings. I have even referenced these paintings many times over the years as an influence on the forms of many of my own paintings.  But I knew (and still know) little of the man or how he came to this form and style. Or his theories on his work.  It just seemed enough to take that feeling I recived from his work and translated/integrated it into my own, without words and theories.  Even this morning as I write this, I know practically nothing of Rothko, his life or his work prior to the multi-forms that I do know.

Maybe that’s the way it should be.   As Rothko said, “Silence is so accurate.”

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