Red. The colour of life / the colour of death

Recently I saw a West End play called Red. It is a play with only two characters: painter Mark Rothko, played by fantastic Alfred Molina, and his newly employed assistant. In the presence of monumental Seagram murals (series of red paintings), the show is a display of artist’s views. The assistant, in fact, exists only to make the artist talk about himself and his art. The play is a dynamic performance, full of clashes and fierce exchanges by both sides, but mostly by Rothko. I liked seeing the close relationship of the artist with his creations and the attention he’s giving to his works. I can definitely relate to the idea that one has to grow a deep connection with his/her own art and spend time taking care of it, almost as it’s one's child. I also feel that art mustn’t be rushed or forced.

What surprised me, however, was the anger coming from Rothko's “teachings”. In Red, Rothko is fame-chasing, self-appointed god of arts, who just doesn’t walk the walk. If you are not an artist and are going to see it, you will definitely get a solid dose of the infamous artist extravaganza through his demagogic, yet self-contradictory tirades. One moment he states how the artist should be poor for the greatness of art, the next he’s bragging about his latest, super expensive commission for a high-end restaurant. I feel this depiction doesn’t do a justice to an artist like myself. I once was close to a similar romantic view of an artist, but for a long time I’ve have dropped this “poor and noble” image. Artists are a service to a society and they should be rewarded for this as other people are. On the other hand - chasing after money and fame as a goal is a straight way to become a slave. After the show, I would have loved to ask people around, what they thought about all this. Did they think that we artists are all like that? Megalomanic and self-absorbed. Clearly, Rothko is tormented by his own demons and these fears are hugely showing through his art. But under the cover of arrogance, I can sense the heavy load of hopelessness and sadness.

I'm not a Rothko expert by any means and speak mostly with reference to the John Logan’s play, but based on that, his fame is nothing to envy. Rothko’s red Seagram murals (some of which reproduced for the show) are equally fascinating and sad; there is so much oppression and pain. The colours, as noted by the young assistant in the play, are colours of death. To him, they are a reminder of dried blood.

Seagram Mural (1of 7) by Mark Rothko

As an artist, I’m aware of how different colour shades can impact a viewer, but Red made me think about this matter in the context of my work. How a single element as a colour, can change the perception so strongly. As you have probably noticed, I use red very often. My red, however, has nothing to do with the one described above. The colour I use has a whole different meaning from Rothko's. My red is full of life as to me it’s a synonym of vitality and courage. People have told me many times about the uplifting effect they get out of my art. When I look at my works, the colour red is a bright light, a root of existence and a start of a journey. To Rothko, it’s the end of it.

 Painting  Courage  by Gosia Poraj

Painting Courage by Gosia Poraj

Based on this short reflection, one lesson comes to mind: an artist is just another human being with their range of emotions, worries and joys. We just express ourselves in a different way, using a visual language. I know some of the non-artists have fear of the abstract art because they think they don’t understand it. So to all people intimidated by abstract art: please don’t be. In the same way, you listen to a person speak, see a person paint… and just feel it.