- Mark Rothko
- signed and dated 1962 on the reverse
- oil on paper mounted to panel
- 12 by 9 in. 30.5 by 22.9 cm.
Acquired by the present owner from the above circa 1998
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The present work draws its viewer in, demanding close inspection and contemplation. Whereas a large Rothko canvas can be imposing and overwhelming to the senses, the present lot is perfectly proportioned for personal reflection. Under close inspection, Rothko’s techniques and materials come to light, and the artist’s presence is profoundly felt. Rothko scholar Bonnie Clearwater lauds the artist’s works on paper: “Thus with their symmetry, tidy execution, and minimal gesture, the small works on paper often seem to be more quintessential Rothko than many of his canvases." (Bonnie Clearwater in Mark Rothko: Works on Paper, New York, 1984, p. 39)
Untitled, in Rothko’s typical upright rectangular format, contains three stacked soft rectangles, amorphous clouds separated by discrete voids of empty space. The forms seem weightless, yet are painted with opaque whites, plums and burgundy tones. The artist articulates color through contrast and assimilation. The overall neutrality of the hues, the dynamic harmony of the pigments, and the delineated color fields of gold, burgundy, and brown, variously reflect and absorb light. The dark central rectangle arrests vision, pinned between two fields of oscillating chromatic forces. Contrast is heightened between these forms by the relative saturation levels of each shape. The upper white form withdraws color, while the color effect of the lower form appears more dense and built up. The center rectangle seems as though it might be the result of the mixture of hues from above and below. As is typical with Rothko, the work’s visual language favors materials and processes over explicit subject matter. Channeling its elemental power through the constantly shifting tussles of color, texture and form, this work pulsates with energy.
Unlike his Abstract Expressionist colleagues Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still, Rothko's emphasis did not include the gesture of the artist's hand. He worked to convey themes pervasive to human experience in his pictures without the obfuscating mediation of recognizable images. Even individual brushstrokes and the originating persona they imply are nearly eliminated. To accomplish this goal, Rothko worked incredibly thin layers of paint onto the surface. The thinness was achieved through adding large amounts of turpentine to his oil paint, which when applied to the paper or canvas would stain the surface and fuse with the support. In the works on paper, Rothko would first apply oil paint to the paper and later mount the sheet onto canvas. The thinned oil paint on the paper, as in Untitled, bleeds the warm hues within each shape. This thinness belies the laborious process of the paint's application and contributes to the ethereal quality of even the darkest tones.
In Rothko's paintings, the horizontal and vertical emphasis implies an expansive plane that continues in all directions into a limitless horizon. This simplicity of Rothko's presentation of this grid allows for the soaring weightlessness of the viewer in the presence of Untitled. Rothko identifies deeply with the viewer in front of his work, so much so that the frontal plane consists essentially of affective fields that stimulate physical responses, sympathetic triggers to psychic and emotional equivalencies. Rothko sets surface action in motion through the material effect of abutting edges and color contrasts and assimilations, juxtaposing vertical and horizontal, opacity and luminescence, alternations of saturations with absence of chroma, and interchanges between mottled and silken textures. Such counterpoint engages the viewer in a dynamic dialogue with Rothko's own commitment to materiality and expressive reciprocity.