A visit to Tate Modern: MATTA & ROTHKO

MATTA, Black Virtue, 1943, oil paint on canvas, Tate Modern.

“His paintings appear abstract but they are based on drawings of erotic and violent scenes. In the two side panels of this triptych the imagery has a mechanistic, science fiction quality. But in the centre the forms are organic, suggesting references to sexual parts. Matta was concerned with capturing the inner world of the mind. Black Virtue evokes a mental landscape in an extreme combination of eroticism and violence.”

  • although the mental images of eroticism and violence don’t exactly suit the purpose and intentions of my own personal work, in hindsight this was one of the first artworks that I saw, which really connected with what I was trying to do in my own work – to develop, shape and depict this inner landscape of our minds – the relationships between its elements and depth of the place
  • it was incredible to see an artist succeed in achieving a real sense of space and multi-dimensionality within the inner world – which turns out is harder to depict than I initially thought, considering their are no rules or laws of physics to guide it, and hence allowing a whole plephora of metaphors and symbolisms to guide its way
  • it was really inspiring to see and learn from, and it definitely shaped the way I thought about abstract space, time and place within the mental landscape from then onwards

“Mark Rothko saw these paintings as objects of contemplation, demanding the viewer’s complete absorption.”

His darker colour scale was influenced by Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence “with it’s blind windows and deliberately oppressive atmosphere.”

“Rothko reportedly commented that Michelangelo ‘achieved just the kind of feeling I’m after – he makes the viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so that all they can do it butt their heads forever against the wall.'”

“Perceived, as the artist intended, in reduced light and in a compact space, the subtlety of the layered surfaces slowly emerges, revealing their solemn and meditative character.”

  • Looking at Rothko’s installation of paintings allowed me to think about how I want my work displayed in the future – inspired by the meditative state that the dim room puts its viewers in
  • It also allowed me to learn and re-evaluate the layering of tone in my work – looking at the most effective ways of layering and the impact that the order has on our perception of depth. From then onwards I was more knowledgeable and conscious about the balance and order of tone in my own work.


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