Saturday, November 9, 2013


"There is only one thing I fear in life, my friend... 
One day the black will swallow the red"
                                                                              Mark Rothko, "Red"


Here is my beginning disclaimer...
I have never fully appreciated nor understood abstract painting.

Last evening we attended the production of "Red",  a ninety minute, without  intermission, two actor play about the artist Mark Rothko.  I knew the name, was somewhat familiar with his work, but wasn't "tuned in".

via google

Set in Rothko's studio in New York City, 1958-1959,  we watch a reclusive, abusive, and narcissistic Rothko mentor, challenge and at times terrorize his young assistant, while creating a series of commissioned murals to be hung at the newly designed The Four Seasons restaurant.

As Ken, a young artist, enters the studio for the first time applying for an assistant's position,  Rothko announces in a tirade "I am not your teacher, your mentor, your Rabbi, your father, your friend....
I am your employer".  Yet by the end of this emotionally layered play you come to the understand the artist took on so many of these roles, as he developed, molded, bullied  and pushed his assistant to see beyond the obvious and find his own place in the art world.  And as so often happens in the classroom the teacher often is taught by the student.

I was moved by this play without seeing one finished canvas.
I walked out of the theater maybe not with a better understanding, but most definitely a new appreciation for the artists who gave us these pieces labeled abstract expressionism.

Rothko believed art should be about emotionally layering and allowing oneself to be stripped naked by the energy and emotion of the work, facing what we as human beings so often find hard to meet, the reality of past and present.  Color and texture were insignificant elements.  I believe it is as much about the artist as the art.  Rothko said, a landscape stays a landscape.  No matter how or where you look at it, a landscape doesn't change, the abstract breathes, moves and changes.  He saw his pieces as a community that communicated, moved and cared for each other.

My favorite artists will remain the Impressionists.  Like the books I enjoy, when I study a painting I want a story, an adventure.   I want to travel to places and times I will never go.  I want to see good lines and technique.  I want to view something amazing and beautiful.  I want to be educated.  I want to say I stood in front of a Degas, a Matisse, a Renoir and say it was more beautiful than I could have imagined.  I don't want to face the glare of reality at every turn, but desire escape.  I want to be healed, and leave the experience feeling well.

While I may continue to browse the Abstract Expressionism exhibits with a question mark floating over my head, I will certainly slow down, stop and appreciate the artist's being, emotion and energy stirred and mixed with pigment and applied to the canvas.

The black did finally swallow the red.
 On February 25, 1970,  Mark Rothko committed suicide.


  1. Bonnie, this is so fascinating. Thank you so much. I was interested in seeing this play and now I will be sure to see it if it come to Los Angeles. I agree with you about abstract, I have never been drawn to it. But I love understanding what the artists were trying to do and I think it has made me appreciate it more. My favorite artist is Manet! xx Sunday

    1. Sunday, I do hope you have the chance to see this play. I would love to hear your thoughts.

  2. I've never come across the opening quote but as soon as I saw it I thought, oh, dear, that's exactly what happened. I love his work, standing before one of his large canvases the scale and intensity of colour is overwhelming. The work is also freighted with the knowledge of his personality. I would have loved to have seen the play although I imagine it was not easy viewing.

    1. Rosemary, Our art center is exhibiting several of his pieces in conjunction with the play. I am hoping to make it by this week to view them in person. The play had moments of comic relief, giving the audience moments to catch our breath. He was most definitely an intense individual, and seems to have been highly intelligent. I found quite interesting and would like to do a bit more research on him.

  3. i am starting to "love" the color red!! with that said i have also never had much of an interest in abstract "anything". perhaps my mind is not open enough, or creative enought!!

    i don't enjoy dark films or watching anything connected with suicide. life is just too precious to me!!

  4. Debbie, I suppose I am pretty much a pollyanna. I always, through my faith, believe the morning will follow the night. "Red" was not about Rothko's death, but about the murals he painted during the years of 1958/59. Suicide is not something I understand, and like you believe every life and everyday is a precious miracle and a blessing. Hugs! Bonnie

  5. I am not familiar with the play or of Rothko's art . . . Sounds dark, yet his other side emerging.

  6. While I do love a great deal of the abstract art from this period, much of it is also famous for its role and place in art history. Josef Albers is a perfect example. You might look at one of his paintings and think "I could do that" and you certainly could. But Albers works revolved around a new theory of color that changed the art world...and it's still accepted, used and taught today. I'm glad you have a new filter through which you see this art.

    I met the wife of a NYC artist who knew all of the now famous Abstract Expressionist artists, including Rothko, and she said he was the single most morose man she ever met. I would love to see this play.
    It seems that many of this group of artists battled the same demons as Rothko. I've always thought there a fine line between genius and insanity and I think many of these artist swayed back and forth on that line.

  7. As I have grown older, I have become more open to what I do not understand. I may not always like what I see, but it is my loss not to look deeper. Art mimics life and there is a heart beating behind so much that we dismiss.

    This is a wonderful post, Bonnis, and your words are beautifully crafted.

    1. Arleen, Thank you so much for your kind words. I do think age allows us more opportunity, and possibly the desire to step back and study things we wouldn't have earlier on. I hope you are having a wonderful week. Bonnie

  8. It sounds like a very powerful play. I'm also not a fan of Abstract art. It's such a shame so many artists are "tortured" by inner demons. Thanks for the review, Bonnie.

  9. What a wonderful post! The play sounds great, although I don't understand abstract art either. Great quote, and a very sad end to your post. I'll watch for that play.

  10. Dear Bonnie - sounds like this play was thought provoking. What a terrible end of this man's life . So often such artistic souls struggle to share their viewpoint that they lose perspective. Glad you shared this story - I had heard of Mark Rothko but never really looked at his art or knew his story. Hope you have a great week.

  11. Dear Bonnie,
    That was quite a production you attended. I agree with you on the Impressionists, I prefer them anytime.
    What good books have you been reading lately?

  12. I have to admit as well that I do not understand or appreciate abstract art. I will always look right past it, as they usually seem to me to be something that a young child could make in art class. (to me) There doesn't seem to be any artistic talent in a canvas with splattered paint or a one red square. BUT, after rereading your post again, I do appreciate Rothko's passion and belief in the energy and emotion between the artist and his canvas. It is easier to understand when you consider the idea of emotion layering, but the more abstract it is, the less I understand it as a piece of art, unless that is the whole idea...interpret what you will....

    But what an interesting play to attend. I do love it when I'm challenged to think about things in new ways and see things from someone else's perspective.