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Work of the Week: Untitled (Red) (1956)

Untitled (Red) (1956)

When discussing his artistic practice in 1958, Mark Rothko said he felt a level of despair at the moment he found that, for him, the figure was no longer an adequate means of expression. He reflected that when he did use the figure, he distorted it beyond recognition. Rothko also felt that he could not convey to the viewer the spirituality and range of emotions he experienced while painting through traditional means, such as narrative and other more conventional modes of practice.

In the 1950s he experimented with creating carefully constructed fields of colour that dissolved towards the edges. Painting was a powerful spiritual, even religious, experience for Rothko, and he hoped the emotional state he attained while working on each canvas transferred to viewers as they became immersed in his work.

Rothko developed unique methods and techniques of painting to achieve his desired aesthetic affects. The direction of his brushstrokes were carefully prescribed and varied in order to create a particular finish. He removed the cross-bars on the stretcher, which caught ridges of paint that disrupted the fields of colour. Although he was quite secretive regarding his techniques, it is well known that Rothko also experimented with the pigments themselves; often using, inks, resin and other binding media in the one painting. He altered the orientation of the canvas while he worked, and would even change his mind about this after a work was completed.

Although Untitled (Red), 1956, is moderate in scale, its brilliant colour chords envelope the viewer’s senses. Rothko’s overlapping blocks of pigment seem to oscillate in constant motion, and the predominant hue – red – is elementally emotive.

Untitled (Red) (1956)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the Helen M. Schutt Trust, Governor, the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, Fellow and The Signet Group, Fellow, 1982
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Licensed by Viscopy, 2011