Black on Maroon

7:00 AM

Rothko, Black on Maroon, 1958


Paintings are often appreciated as still, vivid representations of what an artist sees through their unique, perspective lenses. We judge artwork on its aesthetic values including clean lines, crisp edges, complementing colors, and a host of other factors. However, as one ventures deeper into modern genres of art, the “still” factor diminishes. When I first laid eyes on Mark Rothko’s infamous murals, known to pulsate and create inexplicable visual sensations, I did not see anything but blobs of color thrown onto a canvass. Though that could be credited to the fact I only looked at uploaded replicas, I still could not fathom a painting doing what Rothko’s were known to do.

Then, I came across this enigmatic combination of simplicity and disorder, or better known, Black on Maroon, 1958. I found myself in a deep gaze. I saw two columns of a light maroon enclosed by layers of black. I stared at the rough edges, only to find the columns beginning to slowly separate. The chaotic outlines force movement as my eyes fail to grasp a clear shape without any borders. The black filling in the middle grows, and the maroon towers shift away. I have never experienced a work of art like this.

Why does this imitation Rothko seem to provoke my visual sense unlike many of the others I went through? To be honest, I am not quite sure. It could be that I need to experience the murals themselves, in the conditions Rothko perpetrated for them. But, that still does not explain why I saw this mural burst with life through a screen that destroys the true essence of a work of art. Regardless, this painting stood out in a way where I began appreciating Rothko more than just an iconic figure. He was a visionary who created chaos in stillness, frustration from simplicity. This painting makes me understand where those claims came from. Now, I am not interested solely in the question why Black on Maroon, and presumably his other paintings, incites such sensations, but truthfully, how did he come to discover that?

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