Untitled 1959

7:00 AM

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1959
By ISABEL THOMAS

When I started looking through Mark Rothko’s paintings, I knew that I would spend a great deal of time with whichever one I selected. I tried to decide if I wanted oranges and yellows, grays and blacks, or tragic blues. This search turned into an emotional roller coaster, as some paintings made the emptiness of the universe all too immediate and others took me back to summer days in the yard with my brothers. After watching the course of my life in Rothko’s paint, I opened an image of Untitled 1959. Even an online copy had enough power to clear my mind of everything except this painting. The colors glow as if they create their own light source, and John Logan’s play Red suddenly makes more sense than ever – these reds define passion more completely than words ever could.

Untitled 1959 has more life than Rothko’s darker paintings. It is still a dramatic work – just less of a tragedy. One can feel the blood pumping through this painting – it radiates life. Rothko used all reds and plums and no black colors in Untitled 1959, and this shows how much passion he had. Created just over a decade before the artist’s suicide, this painting reflects that, despite Rothko’s pain and his frustration at society, his passion remained under all of the darkness. Rothko showed in this painting that he could still produce moments of brightness.

The work’s overall radiance initially hit me, but, as my eyes shifted to the darker top section, I felt my mood change and my outlook shift. Dark plum shades divide the painting into three distinct pieces. At first, I could not tell if the middle section sinks below or hovers above the rest of the painting, but I now believe that it breaks away from darkness to leave any black below.

No observer can escape from the emotion of this painting. It has no mild area for respite from the intense, concentrated feeling. In Untitled 1959, Rothko forces his viewers to face passion.

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