I just returned from a trip back to Western Kansas where I grew up. After several rainstorms the landscape has turned a vibrant blue-green, which contrasts beautifully with the white limestone rock that tells of its history as an ancient seabed. The creek was alive with turtles and fish while I was there, and deer and rabbits bounded gracefully along, racing me as I turned my car down the country roads.
My favorite activity when I’m in Kansas is getting up early to watch the sunrise. With a cup of coffee and my camera in hand, I drive out to my family’s farm, find the perfect spot and park. Prairie grass, wet with dew, bathes my feet and the scent of wild sage fills the air. The birds awaken and I hear the distinctive songs of meadowlarks, kildeer, mourning doves and red-winged blackbirds. Nearby rabbits pause as if hypnotized into a state of absolute trust–they’re here to witness the same show I’ve come to see and together we watch the horizon as the first colors of the day appear in the night sky.
A streak of red rises just behind the black silhouettes of trees. Then orange, so brilliant it could be mistaken for a brush fire.
Soon clouds pick up the colors and sweep the sky with a pink that I’m sure can’t be reproduced on canvas. Brushstrokes race across the sky, becoming lighter and sharper as the sun crests the Earth’s eastern edge.
Over the next few minutes the sky turns from dark night to a clear blue that is deep and rich with vaporous, wet clouds.
The dawn is near and with each color splash I’m granted an intimate glimpse at nature’s palate.
As blocks of color reveal themselves to me I am reminded of the artist, Mark Rothko, an artist who is often identified as an Abstract Expressionist, although he himself rejected this label. He is considered one of the most famous postwar artists and his signature style, referred to as “multiform”, consists of only two or three large color blocks painted onto large canvases with the intention to induce an experience in the viewer through the feelings brought forth naturally from his choice of color combination. He would instruct people to stand as close as eighteen inches from his work so as to envelope themselves in the intimate moment of viewing the artwork. In his later years Rothko stressed that to truly experience his art was akin to a spiritual experience.
I experienced the same feeling watching the great dome above me turn night into day, and as much as the artist wants to imitate life, in my opinion, it still remains outside his grasp.
Here are a few of Rothko’s paintings.