Monday, February 13, 2012

Winter Paintings, and Rothko

"... artists pick what already exists in the world, but what they do of course is to pick what corresponds to their own sense of truth."
— artist Sean Scully, speaking in the documentary film, "Rothko's Rooms."

I wonder if my picking thickets as carriers of truth was influenced by, or presented to me in my childhood through a TV cartoon of Grimm's fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty. Flip-book-like animation of thorny bramble cross-hatched the screen, obscuring and engulfing the castle, wherein the comatose guests and Briar Rose slumbered for a hundred years. When the right sort of prince came along, an opening appeared in the impenetrable thicket through which he entered, found, and awakened the snoozing fraulein with a kiss (who never woke up and said "Yuck.")

I have always felt this tale to be about (among other things) the artist's muse, or interior awareness of and attempt to grasp a beloved or an ultimate meaning. One that must be searched out, captured, and expressed; praised, actually, and praised to the point of exhaustion. "This is the most important thing I have to do in life, really the only thing I need to do, the work that can give my life a purpose." Now, this could be read as a statement of the male biological impetus to impregnate the female (in some written versions of this tale, the prince rapes the young woman, who wakes up pregnant), and/or it could be understood as a statement of spiritual ambition: to transcend accidental material existence with a conscious demand for meaning, for participation in a greater life.

Abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman wrote about his vertical stripe paintings, explaining that the primal vocation of a human being is to stand up out of the ooze and consciously confront the reality of personhood and the intuition of God, "... to stand in a place."  To stand forth, to be aware, to seize the opportunity to recognize the other and demand to be acknowledged.

OK, so why all the drums and trumpets for some messy bushes, dark roads, and a muddy canal? Guess I haven't yet got as far out of the ooze as Newman did. But I see glimmers:

Dusk down by the ooze seems to open into the dark matter of the cosmos, a camouflaged interior that can be sensed but not seen when the bright light of day reflects and richochets around the faceted surface of the world, distracting the mind from searching for an opening into its deeper, simpler, more distilled and more demanding truth -- perhaps something like the truth in Rothko's large, dark, "room" paintings.