Wednesday, 10 October 2012

If this is a Rothko, it's the only one I've ever actually liked

I came across this painting on an art-lover's website (which you can visit here) yesterday. It's tagged Study in Blue 1 and attributed to Rothko. Of course, the colours feel right, but it's the presence of four recognisable, carefully-rendered objects - a red T-shirt, a washing line and two clothes-pegs - that made me doubt the attribution.  After years of staring uncomprehendingly at Rothko canvasses, it was a bit of a shock to find one I rather liked.

I can find no other reference to it on the internet. If you know for certain that is a bona fide Rothko, please give me a shout.

Not that I exactly dislike his other work - it's just that I've never understood how I'm supposed to react to most non-figurative paintings. I remember Simon Schama presenting a rather good TV series in 2006, The Power of Art, where he raved about Rothko's genius and significance (it's all available, in bits, on You Tube - you can find one of the sections here.) Annoyed by my inability to respond positively - or in any way at all - to the great man's work, I made a genuine effort to see the paintings through Schama's eyes. As we were presented canvases mainly consisting of raggedy rectangles of colour next to or on top of one another, Schama told us: " ...what he was painting was... stunningly dramatic. Rothko’s multiforms have a movement all of their own – swelling, dissolving, staining and seeping…"

But to what end? To what purpose? What is all that swelling and dissolving and staining and seeping for?

Many people - by no means all charlatans or poseurs - obviously find enormous meaning in these paintings. But I can see nothing in them, just as I can't hear anything in be-bop jazz or twelve-tone classical music: they all strike me as mainly exercises in form carried out by people who, bored with existing conventions, have found new modes of expression, new artistic languages which no doubt mean something to them, but which convey nothing to me.

The painting above, however, does mean something to me - it's an interesting depiction of a T-shirt. The play of light and shadow on the surface of the garment, and the way the blocks of blue and red interact is startling, different, intriguing - it makes one look at the world afresh.

When confronted by most modern Brit Art, I know I'm looking at meritless nonsense, whose only purpose is to appeal to the tasteless nincompoops who run the art world. Most of it is evidently artistically worthless: the ideas behind the work are clichéd and the execution either amateurish, uninspired or downright incompetent. They are - on the whole - bad (though exceedingly rich) artists. I somehow know that Rothko isn't a bad artist - he may indeed be a great one: but unless he provides me with some sort of handle on his work, I'm never going to know.

I don;t think I'm a philistine - but, when it comes to art, I may simply be irredeemably middle-brow. Ah well, there are worse things to be, I suppose.

As for the idiot who defaced one of Rothko's paintings at Tate Modern this week, he should be strung up by the testicles.


  1. Have you noticed how the sleeves follow you round the room?

    1. Boom Boom!

      No, that's quality that is.

  2. It's not a Rothko. It's one of those old adverts where they've washed the right hand side in Dreft and the left in another brand of washing powder.

  3. Man in the Force10 October 2012 at 21:21

    "Swelling, dissolving, staining and seeping. It's a fair cop."

    At this point in his statement, Sir Jimmy asked for 23 other offences to be taken into consideration.

  4. Charles Saatchi is, of course, a great collector of modern art. All this talk about swelling etc reminded me of the time Nigella put him on an exclusively hard-boiled egg diet for six months and Private Eye published a photograph of him looking very haggard and miserable with a bubble coming out of his mouth: "I am really big in the Fart World".

    Re the Yorkshire Albino Creep [Rod Liddle's expression] I note that his chum Freddie Starr has not been on the egg[ or any other] diet recently. I note also that nobody mentions our unbearably smug CAUC-asian friend anymore. I hope your excellent blog will not let up?

  5. Sometimes I worry that visitors to this blog don't take my artistic pronouncements seriously.

    SDG, my reason for not returning to the CAUC-asian you mention is simple: the laws of libel. He is an Old Boy of the school my son attended - I must admit this somewhat shook one's confidence in the quality of the education he was receiving. I'm still digesting the news that Goodness, Gracious Me star Sanjeev Bhaskar is the chancellor of his university. Hmm.

  6. And the rent-a-gob MP Ben Bradshaw attended your son's university. Given its proximity to Brighton these must be worrying times for you? Is Sanjeev Bhaskar some academic? Haven't caught up with him.

  7. Please keep tracking the activities of the rotund little creep from Leicestershire.Aber,Vorsichtig! Remember that about 90% of these bastards in the House of Commons are lawyers - they know little of life, but they know how to manipulate the law.

  8. Don't worry - I will be following news concerning the financial affairs of rge "Honorable" Member for Leicester East and, hilariously, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee (a bit like making Tim Yeo Chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee - or putting Jimmy Savile in charge of Broadmoor) with enormous interest.