Author: Kiley Hixson
With open arms and warm smiles, Lincoln, Nebraska welcomes one of arts most loved color field painters. The Sheldon Museum of Art is proud to call Mark Rothko’s piece “Yellow Band” its permanent home. With many of his other paintings belonging to one of the most famous art museums in the United States, including some works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Lincoln is incredibly fortunate to have one of his pieces present for art enthusiasts to enjoy. To celebrate the installment of this noteworthy piece into the Sheldon’s permanent collection, the museum invited Mark Rothko’s son, Christopher Rothko, to speak about his father’s successful career and provide further understanding of his thought process and the meaning behind his famous works.
Throughout the lecture held on Thursday, November 9th, there was a central theme of the art. The theme of contact between the painter and the viewer, as well as the connection to the unconscious emotions of the viewer. At first glance, the color field painter’s artwork can seem hard to understand, but through the breakdowns and explanations provided by Christopher Rothko, it is clear that Mark Rothko wanted the viewer to look inside themselves and use their personal experiences to interpret what the artwork represents. His goal was to create contact between the viewer and the painter by having them to step into the shared ‘inner world’ of universal emotions.
While Mark Rothko is more famously known for his abstract paintings, abstract expressionism was not the only style he painted with. In fact, the different use of styles he started painting in, helped propel his vision into the powerful sectional paintings we know and love today. When beginning his career as an artist, Rothko used his surroundings of the urban city of New York. He used urban scenes, such as bus stations, to show that people were disconnected from each other. The surreal figures blend into their environment and lack individuality. There was still emotion portrayed, but it was not as easily seen and allowed the viewer to relate to the surreal human figures in a different way than was present in his other works. In these paintings of the urban environment,, he portrayed city life as being distracted by the materialistic aspects of our world, and soon he changed his style to be more raw and emotional by stripping away the figures and focusing on color. In his later works, color became his vocabulary. He also used certain mechanisms that help create his message.
This idea of stripping away the materialistic ideals of society is present in his later works, such as “Yellow Band” that can be seen in The Sheldon. He uses simple forms, but he creates a meaning through the layering of different colors. The younger Rothko described one of the mechanisms he used as ‘nebulanceness’. He used this word to describe Rothko’s signature style of creating cloudy edges of rectangles in his works. This effect of haziness and cloudiness gives the work movement and allows the bright and vivid colors to fight for attention and dominance over the juxtaposed color. This overlapping and layering of colors means to represent the battle between the different emotions people feel, show, or hide in the everyday environment.
When asked if he ever saw his father paint, Christopher Rothko replied no. He said his father was a very emotional and private painter and very few people ever saw him paint. This fact reinforces Rothko’s idea of a private space for people to reflect on their emotions. The younger Rothko also said his father’s paintings are almost better observed alone. Distractions and other visitors can make viewer feel uncomfortable when observing the paintings because Rothko’s works inspire the individual.
The Sheldon Museum truly acquired a treasure for its permanent collection. Rothko’s “Yellow Band” is an incredible piece and will be cherished by the community of Lincoln, Nebraska. The presentation given last night by Mark Rothko’s son, Christopher was very enlightening and provided me, and many others, to step inside a different perspective and fully understand what makes a Rothko painting so remarkable.