Rothko in Lewisham

November 19, 2009

Years ago, when I was young and gloomy, I travelled down to London to see Mark Rothko’s murals at the Tate. There was only one Tate in those days; the London one. And travelling down to London from Manchester was a big deal; this was a pilgrimage. This day had the same power as a Crystal Day in Liverpool or a Blackpool Day at the Pleasure Beach.

These huge and oppressive paintings appealed to me in the way that Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen and the Big Dipper appealed to me. A way that I am still unable to put into words and unwilling and unwanting to try. Instead, I will put them into paintings, music and rollercoasters. That’s the best I can do.

The murals can now be found in Tate Modern. John Banville writes perfectly about them and Rothko here.

They were commissioned for the swanky Four Seasons Restaurant in New York in the late 1950’s. and here’s what Rothko said at the time;

“I accepted this assignment as a challenge, with strictly malicious intentions. I hope to paint something that will ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room. If the restaurant would refuse to put up my murals, that would be the ultimate compliment. But they won’t. People can stand anything these days.”

The restaurant didn’t refuse, but Rothko did withdraw from the commission.

Shortly after giving the paintings to the Tate instead, Rothko cut deep into his arms and died “in a wine-dark sea of his own blood”.

So I was surprised, as I sat in the Radiology Department of Lewisham Hospital, waiting for a chest X-Ray, to find myself close to a Rothko.  Not one of his restaurant ones, but, I think, a miniature of Light Red Over Black, 1957.

I like it. The big one. And I think I have the constitution to contemplate it whilst also contemplating the response of my doctor, yesterday, to my question as to whether the hospital would tell me anything or not; If it’s gross, they’ll keep you in.

Thankfully it wasn’t gross. They didn’t keep me in. Just my asthma having fun. I’m not wheezy; just not really breathing. I’m on steroids now. I was hoping to become Hulk-like, but it seems a real possible side effect* is Moon Face. I’ll settle for that. Sounds like a new Batman villain.

Walking home… ha! At what speed does a walk begin? And what comes before that? It wasn’t a dawdle;  I kept a straight line and an even pace. But noticing me move would be like watching the London Eye spin …I fancied stopping off for a quick nap at Lewisham’s snazzzziest titled bed shop.

* Oh, and insomnia. Hence the late post.

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3 Responses to “Rothko in Lewisham”

  1. iamjamesward said

    The sign in the window where it says “Sale now on. 20%” is that 20% off the original price, or is everything now 20% of its original price?

    I always feel like I can hear a Rothko painting. Like it’s producing a kind of low rumble or something.

  2. Zoe Parker said

    Is it some kind of magic shop that makes you look round when you step in, you should be alright with your moon face as long as it is a full moon.

    Sorry to hear you’re not breathing, but glad it’s not gross, hope you are looking after yourself, I am expecting at least 10 good years from a future husband.

    your future wife x

  3. […] sit near the Rothko print, and a few rows away from the King. He looks like me only twenty years older. And really what I […]

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