Sunday, 3 February 2008


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.


szwagier said...

Rothko's one of my favourites, and has been for a long time. I can't really say why I like his work, except that it's not obviously about anything. I rather like that in painting, as in music.

Just as with Rok d'abla,it's "for the people who want to hear the melodies".

trousers said...

Yes szwag, I think that probably forms part of the reasons for my initial difficulty with his work, the lack of it being about something as such: and, conversely, what forms much of the appeal for me now. I think at my point of conversion, as it were, the impact may have been due to just being in the gallery space with them, quite inadvertently, without feeling the need to search for any points of clear access or reference as such.

Nell said...

I have about as much artistic talent as a jellyfish. Nevertheless, I like Rothko, too - for the colours, and for the sheer scale of much of his work. Whether they're about anything or not doesn't matter to me, I just enjoy looking at them.

Bindi said...

I think a piece of art should not thrust meaning upon you

Bindi said...

I think a piece of art should not thrust meaning upon you

Bindi said...

why did that pop up twice? (bizarre). I only clicked once. lets see how this one goes. One click -

Merkin said...

I am with Swagman and Bindi in saying I don't want to be told what the Emp's new clothes are actually saying.
That is one reason I like Zo-zo's writing. Half the time I can't understand piss-all. The other bit, which I can almost understand, makes it all worthwhile (I think).
Explicit is never a patch on implicit - and that is speaking as a very explicit performer, so to speak.
Let the Dog see the Rabbit.

DJ Kirkby said...

Is it just me or does eating spag without cutlery sound kinda fun? I've given you an award. Fancy dress required to collect it, you will need to describe what you are wearing in the comment box on your way out...

trousers said...

Hi nell, artistic talent or not, nothing wrong with your opinion as far as I'm concerned :)

Hi bindi, in general I'm with you on that. I think when I was first developing and furthering my interest in art, I was probably more reassured by works with...well I'm not sure about meaning, but certainly clear points of reference. My opinion, as hopefully made clear in the post, changed or at least broadened to a substantial degree.

Now I said in general because I was going to play devil's advocate and come up with examples of artworks I like which DO thrust meaning upon the viewer...but I can't trust the old grey matter to serve me weill enough in that respect. Still, that may well be teetering on the edge of dangerous territory for me in terms of starting to debate art, meaning, context, subject/object relationship, whether art can speak for itself without....oh sod it, just ignore me. As much as anything because I'm desperately rusty on all of those points and would only embarrass myself if I pretended I knew what I was talking about.

As with your own points merk, a good turn of phrase there - implicit is better than explicit. Yes indeedy: that resonates for me with a lot of humour too (going off at a tangent), which can be stronger in my opinion for being suggestive of far more than it actually states.

As regards zola, agreed there too: regular sparks of brilliance (sparks of brilliance? Well you get the idea) amongst weird but usually entertaining stuff. Perhaps he'll finally respond to my pleas to write a post about darts since so many of his comments on here make reference to it...

dj, maybe it is fun, if not a little messy. Another award? Why thank you, I'll be over a little later on :)

zola a social thing said...

A band playing music about anything and nothing.
Sold a few they did.
Anyway Trousers I will try my best to write a post concerning darts as soon as I get me bra strap connections all in order again.
Me neck is already in pain from this burdon.