Back to Rothko

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Mark Rothko‘s paintings – even the most exact, the black-form paintings – are punctuated by things that look like accidents. Parts of an apparently even-coloured area will be more reflective than others, but you can only see this when the light catches them at a certain angle. The boundary between one block of colour and another seems smudged, as if the brushwork was a bit rough – but it isn’t, the smudging has been added on deliberately. What looks like a lower layer of paint showing through layers that were meant to cover it was in fact added on top.

But then nor is it an accident that these things look like accidents. Rothko must have studied mistakes, accidents, then studiously overlaid them on, or underlaid them beneath, the gross scheme, making ghost paintings that inhabit the same space as the ones that first strike us, the ones that we can see in reproductions. The ghosts are often unphotographable – they reveal themselves only with certain angles of lighting, and with an effort of interpretation – and because of that never all at once.

I like the idea that we should pay attention to accidents and mistakes as well as intentions and successes. I like the idea of not being limited by my imagination, by my desires, my choices. Mistakes are doors to the world beyond me.

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