Mark Rothko AP2

No.1 (1954)
UNTITLED, (1952)

Colourfield Painting:

Section One: The aesthetics of Colourfield, minimal, hard edge, serial and post-painterly abstract painting.

  • Presence:
    • Post painterly abstract paintings, like all paintings demand that one sees them in the flesh (22).
    • The colours, shapes, patterns, forms, canvases, stretchers and scale of the paintings are crucial; one has to see them up close (22).
    • The canvases of the sixties usually had thick, solid stretchers: and thus a definite volume and mass; they were environmental as well as painterly (22).
    • Painterly abstract paintings are very physical paintings, paintings emphasize the frontal aspect, one can walk around the sides and look at them from other directions (22).
    • Post painterly abstract and Colourfield paintings are not domineering in the way of Rothko and Motherwell. (22)
    • The very lightness and bright colours of Colourfield paintings dispel the sense of being overwhelmed by the paintings. (22)
  • Colour:
    • Colour was the one element of painting that Sixties art was successful at exploring. (23)
    • ‘My purpose is to render my emotion. This state of soul is created by the objects which surround me and which react within me: from the horizon to myself, myself included. For I often put myself into my pictures, and I am aware of what exists behind me’ (H. Matisse, 143) (23)
    • Colour has been central to postwar and contemporary artists such as Barnett Newman, Joseph Albers and others. (23)
    • The Sixties was an era of which drew attention to the physicality of art works. Colour was another element in the physicality of an art object. (24)
  • Flatness:
    • Clement Greenberg noted that any mark made on the surface of the canvas alters the state of the canvas. ‘[t]he first mark made on a canvas destroys the literal and utter flatness’.  (25)
    • When one confronts a painterly picture, they first see the bare canvas. Its stops the viewer up short. (25)
    • Something is different about Colourfield paintings, one doesn’t at first notice what it is. One looks closer: yes, the canvas can be seen. This bare canvas is not a sly reference on the painters’ part to the manufacture of the painting. (25)
    • The artist is not showing the canvas to the viewer to show how the painting is made, much like a movie camera can move out of frame to reveal lights, as set, etc. (25)
    • The paint on the canvas is somewhat representational, paintwork is referring to somethings outside of itself. (25)
    • Many artists sink into a trance state or muse state when they create. A form of pure meditation. (25)
  • Bare Canvas:
    • Three dimensions are real space. They get rid of the problem of illusionism and literal space, space in and around marks and colours. (26)
    • The limits of painting are no longer present. A work can be as powerful as it can be thought to be. Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface. (26)


  • Presence:
    • Flatness in painting is necessary. (28)
    • Donald Judd said that paintings are rarely, if ever, totally flat. ‘Two colours on the same surface almost always lie on different depths’. Colour, especially oil pain, covering all of much of a painting is almost always both flat and infinitely spatial. (30)
    • Barnet Newman’s paintings empahsised vertically, frontality, flatness, single colour, all-overness, unified space and grand scale. (30)
    • ‘The present painter can be said to work with chaos not only in the sense that they are handling the chaos of the blank picture plane but also in that they are handling the chaos of form. In trying to go beyond the visible and the known world they are working with forms that are even unknown to them. They are engaged in a true act of discovery in the creation of new forms and symbols that will have the living quality of creation’. (Newman, The Plasmic Image) (31)
  • Mark Rothko:
    • Rothko’s art is considered ‘heroic’ because it attempts to achieve something great in the world of Existential suffering. Out of the pain and suffering rise Rothko’s spiritual Stonehenge’s. (34)
    • It is transcendence comes from its aim to go beyond the usual realms of art in terms of content and form. (34).
    • Max Kozloff: “Ignition that results from the impact of a fierce pallet upon an aloof and fastidious temperament [which] flusters exhaustion and begins to hold the haunted spectator longer than he intended”.
    • The closer one looks at the late works, the more one sees that Rothko was exploring the same formal aspects that have always concerned painters: (38)
      • The relation between colour and size, scale and shape.
      • The relation between spirituality and matter.
      • The relation between tone and luminosity.
      • The relation between proportion and colour
      • The relation between surface texture and inner tumescence.
White Centre (1950)
UNTITLED (No. 73), (1952)
UNTITLED [blue, green], (1956)
UNTITLED [red, green], (1956)
UNTITLED, (1949)

Like Richter, I have closely looked at Rothko throughout my progression and practice development. I have studied his method of paint application, mainly the layering of thin coats to build a deep void space of colour. I have concentrated on his choice of colour, principally his colour pairing. I find his piece that use conflicting pigments, more in tune with my current colour choices. I am working with mainly highly tuned, vibrant pigments similar to those I experienced in NYC, but using those colours to create a conflict. This conflict stems from a personal standpoint, reflecting the inner confusion that I am currently experiencing. Immersing myself inside of these pigments (through light), encircling and cradling me at the heart of the conflict, allows me to untangle and manoeuvre my way through.

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