No. 14(Horizontals, White over Darks) was painted in 1961 which is in the latter years of Mark Rothko’s illustrious 5 decade career. This painting which carries many of the features that were characteristic of his work is categorized as a color field painting. This is a form of abstract painting that grew out of New York in the 40’s and 50’s that drew its inspiration from European Modernism. Among the principal characteristics of this movement is that color is the main subject in the painting.
Art enthusiasts will attest that the first thing that comes to mind when you hear Mark Rothko is, a painting with a rectangular form and deep vibrant colors. Horizontals, White over Darks is the perfect depiction of this. From the name of the painting one is able to get a mental image of what the it looks like. Originally the painting is 143.3 X 237 cm in dimension and is currently located at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
The painting from top to bottom is four rectangular panes stacked on top of each other, which make the horizontals part of the painting’s name. These are painted on a darker shade of violet background that seems to almost swallow the bottom rectangular pane. The middle two horizontals don’t differ much in color, with the top one being darker in color than the lower one. The top rectangular pane is white which covers the other part of the name, White over darks.
Towards the end of his career Mark Rothko tended to simplify the elements that constituted his paintings. In the 1950’s he started dividing the canvases into horizontal strips of color. Despite the simplistic nature of his compositions, the choice of colors and the deliberate choice of shapes is what makes his work special. The ability of the forms to appear as if they are floating while at the same time managing to merge with the background is a skill that he showed time and again.
Mark Rothko was influenced by a number of artistes which range from German expressionists like Paul Klee and some of the contemporaries in his circle. The most important of these though was the painter Milton Avery who introduced the possibility of living as a professional artist to Rothko. He on the other hand greatly influenced and keeps on influencing artistes to this day. This can be seen in the works of artists like Rachel Garrard and Richard Caldicott.
Art lovers are usually advised to try and get some personal time with Mark’s paintings rather than just quickly shooting a glance and going on with their day. This is because majority of the color field paintings have different styles used on the canvas that perhaps won’t be noticeable on a smaller photograph on the internet or your phone.