“What is sadness in life, sir?” A cameraman asked a man who normally spends his time by the doorstep of the building where Rothko’s studio used to be.
“Not having a moment,” he answered.
A rumbling, rhythmic subway noise fills the air. It can be rattling yet relaxing. It is a familiar sound for many who live in a city. At a metro station, strangers wait for the same subway, occupying the same space with the same goal, yet they do not interact with each other. Their faces are blank and bodies motionless. The walls are old and dusty. It is only the sound of the subway slowly approaching this lifeless and dim station that hints the hustling life in New York City, one of the busiest and liveliest cities in the world.
The 2014 film THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO by Marjoleine Boonstra revisits the life and works of Mark Rothko, whom the film portrays as a philosopher who used canvas and color to express. The film follows the development of Rothko’s style starting from depicting city scenes to mythological paintings, and later from color field paintings and ends the film with the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. Christopher Rothko, Mark Rothko’s son, narrates the life and writings of the painter, with quiet yet deep and soulful notes of piano and string instruments. Rothko’s biographer, Annie Cohen-Solal, and conservator Carol Mancusi-Ungaro provide detailed, honest comments that guide the viewers in understanding Rothko’s paintings and his views. A curator at Gemeentemuseum, Franz Kaiser walks the viewers through his installment of the Rothko exhibition.
Annie Cohen-Solal specifically discusses the tension the painter had faced: the new world that he lives in; moving towards the abstract art; and his original longing for the Europe that he originates from.
“When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing,” Mark Rothko wrote. He then proceeded to contrast it with the modern life, supposedly full of energy and actions .Yet, he notes, it is a world in which “many are driven to this life are searching for pockets of silence, where they can root and grow.”
While some identify his art as abstract art, Rothko went back to Greek myths as “a way of grounding himself in the basics of European culture and European history. From then on, he was able to evolve and find his own language,” says Cohen-Solal.
OVID.tv’s THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO Shows Us Rothko’s Spiritual Dimension
The film immerses us in Rothko’s mindset. Layers of paint drop, scratches, and rusty, crooked nails are sticking out. On this old wooden floor, the only thing that signals time and movement is the changing shadow of the window. Just like this close-up shot of the floor of Rothko’s studio in New York, THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO frequently uses architectural shots and photographs that emphasize the potent magnitude of stillness of New York City as well as Rothko’s paintings. The film depicts an empty hallway, abandoned furniture on the street, and windows and a detailed corner of a gray building – all static. In his writing, Rothko contrasts the modern time – active, full of life, busy – with the older times that exist in memory— writings, paintings, and photographs. The film utilizes contrasts to recapture the artist’s tension to the audience and connect the incompatibles: movement and stillness, noise and silence, modern and history, and intellect and emotion. “But precisely in the art they come together,” says Kanz.
We Learn the Power of Stillness from Rothko
Via THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO, you too might also realize the chilling power of silence and stillness. As Christopher Rothko, the son of the painter, reads his father’s writings and philosophy, we can communicate with the painter in our living rooms, and root ourselves in silence.
“Art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take risks,” said the painter.
In a busy society like this, we strive for movement and action, while longing to rest. In this time where most of the activities halted, this documentary communicates the power embedded in silence. Under an hour, THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO allows us to take the risk of breaking out their familiar perspectives and immerse themselves in the ocean of tensions and ironies.
“If I must place my trust somewhere, I would invest it in the psyche of sensitive observers who are free of the conventions of understanding. I would have no apprehension about the use they would make of these pictures for the needs of their own spirits,” wrote the painter.
Amid the sudden halt of ordinary life, we can learn the power of silence and stillness from THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO. Anyone who seeks an intimate and pensive experience would appreciate the film.
Director: Marjoleine Boonstra
For more information, and to view the film, please visit the OVID website for THE SILENCE OF MARK ROTHKO
Images courtesy of OVID.tv
About the Author:
Yoo Jung Hah is a recent History graduate from the University of Chicago. Originally from South Korea, Yoo Jung has worked in education nonprofits in Chicago and a public advocacy nonprofit organization in Washington D.C. During her free time, she enjoys attending cultural and art events, painting, and cooking.