FIELD AND VISION
For Mark Rothko ( 1903 – 1970 ) , immense scale was a way of immersing the viewer in the picture: “However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command.”
This is not sheer hubris. Rothko wanted to make works that wrought a transcendent effect, that dealt with spiritual concerns: “Paintings must be like miracles,” he once said. With Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still, Rothko represents, in the words of art critic Robert Hughes, the “theological side” of Abstract Expressionism.
Rothko and Newman worked with vast fields of unbroken color, without any figurative reference points at all. In principle at least, there was nothing in these works for the viewer to respond to except raw visual impression, the hue and luminosity of the paint itself. This was Kandinsky’s vision taken to its logical extreme: the object had disappeared entirely , and the only thing left was color. As the strength of the effect was considered porportional to the size of the image, these painters found it necessary to work on a large scale. The have become known as the Color Field group.
Yet something of the figurative remains if the canvas is not simply monochrome. The eye and brain seem to demand it; they conspire to construct forms from the juxtaposed fields of color, just as Leider warns. Rothko’s TWO OPENINGS IN BLACK OVER WINE (1958), becomes a window in a dark room through which one sees the last glimmering of a burgundy dusk. OCHRE AND RED ON RED ( 1954) , has echoes of landscape simply by virtue of the horizontal format of the color field: we are looking out into the shimmering heat haze of a desert.