Rothko and the Golden Light of Autumn

Fall has always been my favorite season. I love the cooler air, turning crisp like the perfect apple. Summer’s soft light becomes crystaline, objects look sharper, distances closer. Everything comes into clear focus. You can almost see the space between things. The reds yellows and oranges of turning and falling leaves bathes the world in a warm glow. “Then summer fades and passes and October comes. We’ll smell smoke then, feel an unexpected sharpness, a thrill of nervousness, swift elation, a sense of sadness and departure.” ( Thomas Wolfe. ) I think also, at this time of year, of Mark Rothko,and the shimmering glow, the majestic silence, and the profound emotional resonance of his canvases. And, in the case of these particular ones, of Fall.

Early on, Rothko, like so many of his time, was influenced by the German Expressionists and Surrealists. But Rothko gradually moved away from using symbols and representational elements, into his unique colorfields, which crtitics called, “multiforms.” His interest from the beginning, was in creating mythological images that created a wordless, correlative that capsulized the most profound realms of the human experience. Rothko wanted to ” free the unconscious energies previously liberated by mythological images, symbols, and rituals.” He said, “The exhilarated tragic experience, is for me the only source of art.” He wanted to fill the spiritual void in modern life, that could no longer effectively use specific myhtological narrative or images to convey real feeling. In his own words, ” I’m not an abstractionist. I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form, or anyhting else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on…The fact that people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures, shows that I can communicate these basic human emotions…The people who weep before my pictires are having the same religious experience I had when painting them. And if you say you are only moved by their color relationships, then you miss the point.”


Color in Rothko’s work, radiates in a way that creates vast reaches of space, time, and mood. I always find them like windows to another, more spiritual plane. They transmute, somehow, this world into a place of prayer.

As fall fades into winter, where the interior glow of the world  starts to sleep, and a darker stillness, the flatter light of hibernation reigns. But the life force is not extinquished. Silence reigns, and Rothko is always there to illuminate every season.

 

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26 Comments on "Rothko and the Golden Light of Autumn"

  1. kathy says:

    I’ve often felt, that if I could own any one painting, it would be a Rothko. There is something deeply “religious” (for the lack of a better word) in them. Such a sad, and tragic end for such a monumental artist.

    • David Leeds says:

      He would be up there on my list, too. But, it’s a long list.
      I spent a lot of time in college looking at the triptych commissioned by Harvard in Holyoke Center. It wasn’t there long, because the natural light that poured in that room was destructive to the canvases. but they were incredible paintings.

  2. Ulf Skei says:

    The sublime power of Rothko’s work hit me almost first time I saw it, must have been while at art school, many years ago.I just enjoy the felt like quality of those fields. Yeah.

  3. Helen says:

    Rothko fan here.,,the canvases literally glow to me. Sad ending to his life but a wonderful legacy. Have been lucky enough to see them in museums from NYC to Boston and am always awed. Whenever I can find one, I buy a calendar so I can see the images on a daily basis throughout the year and keep it in my kitchen. The images are, of course, small, but conjure up the large paintings in my mind’s eye.

    • David Leeds says:

      Helen, I had the great privilege to co-host an event for John Kerry at Rothko’s son’s home. His father’s paintings were everywhere, and many that had never been seen publicly. What a glorious evening it was!

  4. thankyou david, beautifully written and felt…
    i´m also his fan….. but never saw them unluckily……love the importance of the inner and outer space he creates..
    i heard he was very influenced by michel angelo´s,arquitecture in the medici´s library with those closed windows that lead nowhere….. to me in rothkos´s case they lead to his and our inner space …
    thankyou again,

    • David Leeds says:

      Carmen, I so hope you get the opportunity to see his work in person. It really is revelatory.

    • Koragot says:

      The type of physician I would like to work for is a Pediatrician. Pediatrician’s sitcpaley is to work with children. I have been working with children for a long time mainly because I work at a daycare facility. I’ve got to a point where I feel like I can handle anything that will come my way with them. It would also leave me feeling good at the end of the day to know that I have helped in some way to make a child feel better.The type of physician I would not care to work for is a Epidemiologist. Epidemiologist’s specialize in epidemics caused by infections agents and also work with sexually transmitted diseases. I feel if I were to work in this type of sitcpaley I would be putting my self at risk of exposure to these infectious agents. Also I would be focusing a lot of my time on trying to not get infected instead of having a steady mind on what I was actually supposed to be doing.

  5. yes the glow of autumn is what i feel looking at these. they are so rich and vibrant. i remember the blaze of autumn on the east coast, these have that crisp feeling love these and love how beautifully you wrote about them david.

  6. David, these images are beautiful and I love how you related them to fall. It is my favorite season also. We just got back from London and Paris, and despite a heat wave that was unexpected, we had a few days of the crisp fall weather you are talking about. I learned so much about Rothko from your post. I enjoyed reading about his use of color and what he was attempting to communicate with it. Great post!

    • David Leeds says:

      Thanks Sunday. As I commented on your recent post, I’m highly jealous of your trip, and what sounded like a great theater experience. It’s only been two months since we’re back, but i’m feeling desperate to return.

  7. Cynthia Cannady says:

    I, too, love Rothko. I appreciate your comments about him, David.

  8. Dermot McCabe says:

    I have never seen a Rothko first hand. They don’t translate onto a computer screen. Hope some day to see some of his work.

  9. Susan Tiner says:

    Hello, I found you via Kathy Peck, and I’m so glad! I may have seen Rothko paintings before, the feeling they evoke is familiar to me, but I can’t remember. Perhaps at MoMa in NYC. I live near San Francisco and will make a point of looking for Rothko the next time we’re at SFMoma. In March 2012 we’re traveling to London and Paris and will seek out Rothko.

    I admire the photos of your works of sculpture and hope to see them in person one day.

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Sculptor, painter, poet. Currently living in Los Angeles and Martha's Vineyard