Unreal Nature

June 27, 2017

A Surrogate Religion

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… it is that of the power of light slowly but inevitably to pulverize all of matter, as if the entire world would eventually be disintegrated by and absorbed into this primal source of energy and life.

This is from ‘Rothko and Tradition’ found in On Modern American Art: Selected Essays by Robert Rosenblum (1999):

… Of course, artists are human beings like the rest of us, and their work may reflect, like any human personality, different, even warring impulses. In the case of Rothko, there is, to be sure, a fully epicurean potential that manifests itself instantly at any Rothko show by the recurrence of colors and color chords so rarefied that the words for our primary and secondary hues — blue or red or green — which are often applied to the titles of his paintings, seem laughably inadequate to describe chromatic sensations closer to something like tangerine or puce or crimson.

[line break added] In this, Rothko often emerges as a voluptuary who could savor and refine those elusive hues associated with the glories of the French hedonistic tradition, from Monet and Renoir to Bonnard and Matisse. Yet there is always, too, the countercurrent of a monkish opposition to this sensuous façade; and part of these paintings’ emotional density resides in what is almost a conflict between pleasure and denial, between the immediacy of hues that can glow like a sunrise and their inevitable extinction.

In this dialogue, Rothko’s wide range of tonal values acts as a constant curb, for his most gorgeous colors are often blotted out by the darkest of storm clouds or evaporated into near-invisibility by an invading stratum of white atmosphere, as if the life of the senses were being assailed or pushed away to some distant realm of memory.

[ … ]

… he has begun to be seen as the heir to a movement that was first defined and named in the 1940s, Luminism. Referring to a mode of landscape painting (as well as photography) that flourished in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, Luminism has, of course, to do with the dominion of light. To be sure, the many American painters who practiced this mode have strong affinities with earlier European painting, especially with the work of Friedrich and Turner, but there is little doubt that the abundance and intensity of these visions speak for their importance to a peculiarly American experience.

Typically, a Luminist painting confronts us with an empty vista in nature (often a view of sea and sky from the shore’s edge) that is more colored light and atmosphere than terrestrial soil; and if there is any movement at all in these lonely contemplations of a quietly radiant infinity that seems to expand in imagination even beyond the vast dimensions of the North American continent, it is that of the power of light slowly but inevitably to pulverize all of matter, as if the entire world would eventually be disintegrated by and absorbed into this primal source of energy and life.

[line break added] A surrogate religion is clearly a force here, too, and scholars of Luminism have been quick to point to the analogies between this perception of a natural American light that can slowly lead us to the supernatural and the transcendental thought of Emerson and Thoreau, who also sought a mystic immersion into the powers of nature.

My most recent previous post from Rosenblum’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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