I’m not an abstractionist. I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.
You might be thinking - Richard is a realist painter, and he begins with a title that obviously shows his bias against flatness. He's got an agenda against abstraction and I don't think I care to hear his arrogant peal into Rothko. However, you will have misjudged me. The title is very close to my intention, but not in the way one might think.
In watching Simon Schama's The Power of Art last night, I came to an understanding. I have always enjoyed Rothko's work, especially his later pieces. His Seagrams murals and the Rothko Chapel have always struck a chord in me. They remind me much of Goya's late work: The Black Paintings. But I had never quite understood the context of Rothko's work and I realized how incredibly much I had in common with him. His great masters - Rembrandt, Turner, Goya- are the very same that speak to me. His work attempted to evoke that same poetry, that same subtlety, that gravitas of the spirit that they achieved. He was concerned with piercing through the illusions of man to the very depths of his soul and communicate to the pure emotive core. This is what man truly responds to: not cold intellect or sardonic irony.
But for the first time I connected the expanding consumer culture of 1950's America with this brooding idealist. I saw the shallow materialism which surrounded him and I understood his hope, his frustration, his vision. His work is not a flippant comment about the transient pop culture. It is not the self-obsessed, elitist, intellectual masturbation which speaks only to itself and "the dialogue". Rothko was an ascetic. He wanted to bind a chord of communion between other human beings in the only way he knew how, if only to prove that he was not alone. This could only be done by conveying meaning. His work was a resounding cry for eternity, for humanity, for depth.
I see an incredibly similar society today. I see the same materialism, the same consumer culture magnified by the media to the point of brainwashing every person from childhood to be nothing more than gluttonous and sarcastic cannibalistic sheep. Yet they are blinded to the very fact of their actions. We have unjust and futile wars raging and there is no protest music. We are the machine that drives economic colonialism and no one holds up the mirror for us to see. Where are our great masterpieces of emotion? Where is our clarion call?
Where is the cry against the cloak of the night, the sudden beam of light that reveals what is hidden?
At this moment art does not have such a call, art does not have such a light. Art is merely a smear of shadow in the corner, chanting to itself of it's own murkiness and wealth.
No, the depth I speak of has little to do with the illusion of three dimensional space. Not visual depth, but true depth. And art, for the moment, does not have this.