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Sunday 27 March 2011

Breath of Life

A downward scrolling journey
to a land of three flat areas
of colour, like a flag - the very thing
I thought that it must be -
led on to later subtleties
of tint and hue injecting life.

These things do not belong to flags.
So, palpitations of excitement - slow,
how slow a scroll can seem!
A Rothko!. Could it be a Rothko,
here for me! But finally,
the end of scroll: a landscape,
simply cut and glued together,
with a sun for atmosphere,
and streaks of liight - all things
you do not find in Rothkos,
not the later ones, not those
whose paint becomes a living
membrane; hints of other worlds,
of new dimensions, filter back and forth,
and worlds you feel but cannot see
creep in the brain. No Rothko then,
this landscape squeezed between
two blocks of colour, something that
he might have put on canvas
had he been fired by intellect
instead of instinct, had his works
been well-behaved, content to wait
there in the corner to be seen
and not those breathing surfaces.

A Rothko

This is my response to this week's prompt from the Writers' Island stable


Isabel Doyle said...

There used to be a room on the inside of the Tate Modern, almost like a chapel, which was dedicated to Rothko. It rarely had a visitor, only the colour in those enormous canvases pulsing and whispering.
Your poem returned me to that space most beautifully.

Tabor said...

Brought me back to the first time I saw a Rothko exhibit in Houston...decades ago. Sort of sucks you in.

David Cranmer said...

You have introduced me to Rothko.

Jim Murdoch said...

I saw a documentary a while ago and was amazed to see how long he slaved on these canvases. They look as if they could be thrown together in an afternoon but far from it. I’ve never seen one in the real world and I’m sure if I did I might be a bit more impressed that I currently am. The Internet and books may convey an image but not its power. On the whole although I couldn’t say abstract expressionism (or abstract painting, the term Rothko preferred) leaves me cold it doesn’t really excite me with the possible exception of Jackson Pollock.

Gisizee said...

Breathing surfaces is exactly the phrase for Rothko's work! You cannot walk by one of his canvases, they ensnare you like a beautiful vista, and then as you stand before them they pulse and move and, yes, BREATHE, to the extent that sometimes you forget to. Lovely poem and tribute to the master.

anthonynorth said...

You painted a great tribute with your words.

LR Photography said...

Yes indeed you have introduced me to Rothko.

Art Durkee said...

Always good to see a response to Rothko. I've spent hours in front of his paintings in various museums and galleries. Someday I want to spend a day at the Rothko Chapel in Houston, in front of the black paintings. Sitting or standing in front of a Rothko, time seems to slow down, the painting pulls you in, you realize there are a hundred transparent layers, and even though the painting's abstract, you gradually realize there's a powerful emotional/spiritual charge coming of it. Rothkos can be very overwhelming to experience in person.

I once had an argument with a young poet who was entirely dismissive of Rothko. But he'd only ever seen the paintings in small reproductions online, and he stubbornly convinced he didn't need to see one of the pantings live before making his negative judgments. That's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. The subtleties of color in the actual painting, which are often huge in size, are incredible, and moving, and very emotional.

The poem works as a meditation on the painter and his paintings for me. It took me a couple of read-throughs to like it, it seemed too prosaic at first. But then you begin and end the poem with the emotional and spiritual, which is entirely appropriate for Rothko. And you're right about intellect vs. intuition, I think.


Corinna said...

You are very creative with your writing. You leave me in awe with it. I must experience one of these Rothkos first hand. I want to feel these hints of other worlds.

Tilly Bud said...

I only discovered Rothko eight years ago, and I can't say I was impressed, but he grew on me.

I like your interpretation of the prompt: unusual and thought-provoking.

Carl said...

Wonderfully and elegantly executed

Cloudia said...

Thank you.
Your educated eye and tongue
teach me, Dave.

Being an american, the rothko reminds me of the world trade ctr.

Aloha to you
from Honolulu!

Comfort Spiral


earlybird said...

wonderful description of later Rothko canvasses:

'whose paint becomes a living
membrane; hints of other worlds,
of new dimensions, filter back and forth,
and worlds you feel but cannot see
creep in the brain.'

love that 'creep in the brain' - they do - I can never adequately express the images they give me but they do.

Dave King said...

I remember the room. Haven't been in a long while now, so don't know if it's still there. It's quite remarkable, the way they affect you if you just let them sink in. Thank you for your kind response.

That describes it perfectly. They do exactly that.

If you get addicted, you'll never kick the habit.

There's no doubt about that: reproductions don't even begin to do them justice. You need to have the original before you - and for a little while before they begin to work. It's true also that he took great pains over each canvas, often sitting before a canvas just letting it sink in before applying the next brush load or whatever.

Two Tigers
Hi and a warm welcome to you. Yes, you convey the experience perfectly. My grateful thanks to you for the generous comment. All feedback is put to good use!

Anthony North
A kind comment, indeed. Thank you.

I repeat my warning to David.

Much thanks for that comment. I have met several such as your poet who saw no need to encounter an original. Everything changes when you do, for the life that is there cannot be reproduced. Thanks, also, for the comments specifically about the poem. that is useful fodder .

I'm sure you will not regret it if you do encounter one. Thanks for the comment.

Hi and a very warm welcome. I think your experience of gradually warming to Rothko is a quite common one. Thanks for your feedback.

Much thanks

Thanks Carl. Much appreciated.

I understand your last remark. Many thanks for commenting.

hi, good to have yoou visiting and good to have your commennts. Thank you so much for them.