Untitled, 1969

7:00 AM

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969
By REID GUEMMER

Seeing a Rothko for the first time was confusing for me. The work of the great American artist only looked like boxes and lines painted in a variation of colors. I felt as if I should experience some life altering realization once laying eyes on it, and I felt ignorant for not understand the deeper meaning behind it. What I did not realize was that to understand Rothko’s work, you must understand him.

During the last years of Rothko’s life he began painting in more somber colors. He experimented with shade variations, seeing how dark he could make the colors without sacrificing the motion and life of the painting. Perhaps this was a representation of his deepening depression, seeing how long he could go on without losing life himself. Untitled, 1969 is one of countless examples of this experimentation. Divided in two, the canvas’s upper half is painted in black with little visible brush strokes (at least through a screen) with the occasional splotch of a slightly lighter shade of black. The bottom half, a milky gray with undertones of purple has clear brush strokes and tone variation producing much more movement.

Rothko’s work is entirely up for the viewer’s interpretation, although he did hope that it would make them feel those raw human emotions we rarely experience nowadays. The color combination creates an atmospheric feel, almost as if the gray were the rim of a planet and the black were space. The abrupt transition from the deep black to cloudy gray gives the spectator much more to consider about the painting. It is unclear whether the milky gray is consuming the black, or if the black is swallowing the gray. As with many Rothko’s, the lack of clarity gives the audience independence on their experience with the piece.

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