Wednesday, 22 October 2008


MARK ROTHKO: THE LATE SERIES @ TATE Modern, London September 26th, 2008-February 1, 2009

Exhibition Includes: Four Darks in Red 1958, 8 of The Seagram Murals, The Black-Form Paintings, Untitled 1964, The Brown and Gray Paintings, The Black on Gray Paintings

The current Rothko exhibit at the TATE focuses mainly on his work in series (1903-1970) and is the first major collection of his work to be featured in the UK for the past 20 years. It is a rare chance to see some of these pieces united, hailing from diverse homes including the MoMa in New York City, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Kawamura Museum of Art in Japan. There is a large focus on the Seagram Murals, a series comissioned in 1958 for a dining room in The Four Seasons, there is a sort of mythos hovering around the paintings that Rothko later withdrew from the project, deeming a dining room an unsuitable place to display his work. The current display of the Seagram paintings has been meticulously put together by the TATE to be as close to the orginal wishes of the painter himself as possible, and is a long gallery with a lovely amount of breathing room between pieces.

There is something about Rothko that attacts me partiularly from a lighting design standpoint. His use of color and texture is a tangible (although not really, they arrest you for that sort of thing...) example of what we strive to do every day on the stage. Although this could be a metaphor from everything from text to design, it particularly resonates when discussing light. I first started looking at a lot of Rothko images when working with New York lighting designer, David Lander, who was usuing a painting as inspiration for his cyc in a production of King Lear. It has struck me ever since that Rothko has in fact laid out the groundwork for nearly perfect lighting designs. Seeing these peices in person is invaluable. I cannot stress enough that nothing but reality can do remote justice to Rothko technique-- it is imperative to see each available brush stroke. It is a brilliant example of the amount of work that goes into something that appears on a quick glance to be starkly plain-- As we in the theatre know, this is ever the hardest thing to accomplish! In Rothko, something that is black is actually seven shades of purple.

I spent maybe 5 minutes in the Black on Black room completely alone. (Lucky scenario at the TATE on a weekend!) It was incredible to sit quietly, with the paintings, no other person to put meaning or judgement on either them or myself. All art that challenges us and our perspective changes us, and hopefully as we change and deepen, so does our craft.

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