Typical that, just as my self-imposed teetotalism comes to an end, I end up suffering with what we shall euphemistically call a delicate stomach. I'll provide you with no more detail than that, despite the temptation to go into all sorts of intricately gory descriptions. It's a relief in all sorts of ways though, not to feel quite so - how shall I describe it - centrally governed today. It wasn't the norovirus that the very eloquent but why? has had the misfortune to suffer, I think it was something I ate which decided to rather violently disagree with me.
Enough of that already. This is one of those blog posts which feels a little bit aimless, but which doesn't necessarily feel like a bad thing. Often I find myself thinking about what to write about, and imposing certain tacit conditions as to whether I should write about something which is current, relevant (to me at least), structured, or in other words not so completely random that I wonder why on earth I might write it or why anyone might read it.
Not good. It's good to have certain conditions (not in the sense as that described in the first paragraph) otherwise this really would end up as the blogging equivalent of eating spaghetti without cutlery, on the other hand I don't see why I shouldn't write something purely because it might not flow or sit well with other topics.
So, earlier, I was thinking about the work of the painter, Mark Rothko. Possibly because, in a couple of weeks, I have some time off work: I've decided I really ought to go down to London and look round some of the galleries as well as doing some record shopping and whatever else may crop up. I haven't been down to London for quite some time.
When I first began attending art college, Rothko was for me the epitome of all that was dubious if not downright shit about art. This says much about my ignorance at the time, and it's not easy to remember the reasons - if indeed there were any clear ones - why I held this view so firmly. I know it's because I couldn't read his work in the way that I felt I could read that of, say, Picasso or Cezanne or Monet, but I don't recall whether I had a problem with it purely because it was abstract: I'm sure I did like other abstract works. I'm not sure either whether my disdain fell into such crass territory as that old chestnut, anyone could do that, what's so special about it?
But, I didn't like it. His work didn't speak to me, it was cold, dark, devoid of emotion, depth or feeling. On my visits to the Tate (before it diverged into Tate Britain and Tate Modern), I would wander through the room devoted to Rothko paintings, barely pausing except to register said disdain.
One day, on such a visit, I paused in the Rothko room. It was more dimly lit in there than in most of the rest of the gallery, which had added to my list of disincentives. I may have just decided to sit down on one of the seats for a few minutes and take a rest from the influx of quite intense visual information that can sometimes feel like sensory overload when looking at artworks over a period of time. By the time I left the room however, I was a convert. I have used this phrase often, but for some reason while I was sat in that room, something clicked.
Just as I've found it hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that had previously made his work seem so lacking, it's just as difficult to describe this complete and sudden turnaround: but sudden and complete it was. The simplest - and thus hardly the most accurate - way of describing it would be to say that whereas previously I just didn't "get" it, now I did, at least on my terms. Now that really isn't satisfactory at all, but for now it will have to do. Years later, when these works had been relocated to the Tate Modern, I took the train to London with the specific intention of spending a lot of time in the Rothko room: it was something I felt I needed to do.
I think I was in there for four or five hours, sometimes studying the individual paintings closely, other times standing back to view them in relation to one another and their surroundings, and still other times just being there and not focusing on anything specific. It was quite an intense experience, ranging from claustrophobic to something quite liberating and very lifting. In the end I had to leave and get out into the fresh air, but I was glad to have done it.
I'm also reminded of an anecdote of a friend of mine: an art lecturer, he accompanied a rather cynical acquaintance of his to some of the galleries in London. In a manner not dissimilar to my own, he was at his most cynical upon entering the Rothko room, stating that he didn't know what the work was about or even for, nor what effect he might expect it to have on anyone. To which my friend replied, "why are you whispering then?"
I'm already looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with them and with a whole host of other paintings and artworks.