Mark Rothko’s paintings are fields of colour. He reduced his palette in this instance to dark red, brown and black—two different blacks, one washed out and one much stronger. Three blocks of fairly sombre tones float over the field of dark red.
In the early 1950s Rothko employed bright colours in harmonious combinations but in 1957, the year this work was painted, a perceptible shift occurred in his work. Fewer and darker colours were used, reflecting a more limited range of moods, including a preoccupation with death and mortality.
Rothko is an emotional artist, evoking many different feelings in viewers. One of the contradictions of his work is how beautiful the paintings are when he may have been making a despairing gesture about human behaviour. ‘A painting is not a picture of an experience; it is an experience,’ he said.
The layers of thin paint can create a sense of light coming through. One’s appreciation of the apparent depths in the colours is influenced by the way the painting itself is lit, with Rothko himself alternating between bright and dim. The work is not framed but is just stretched canvas, so there is really nothing between the viewer and the paint.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008