Given Rothko’s suicide, I found myself thinking about low tide, not in the nautical sense but as the emotional state a person is experiencing when considering ending existence.
I don’t know much about the life of contemporary artist Mark Rothko, other than that he chose to end it himself—an act as devoid of nuance and subtlety as any a person can take. Rothko’s art, however, is all about subtlety and nuance, barely perceptible shifts of color, elaborate layers of similar hues that create floating structures on a flat canvas, finding the place where opposites become similar and contrasts slide effortlessly into comparisons.
Looking at the sky over the water on this morning’s walk, I saw my favorite Rothko paintings forming with the rising sun. Gray morphs into blue, and the dark sand starts to glisten. Gradations of yellow shift ever so slightly before glowing orange. Something you can’t touch has texture. Something so seemingly simple evokes the deepest, most complex feelings in your soul. Perhaps Rothko drowned in the flood of emotion his works brought forth, or maybe he was a dispassionate renderer of what he saw, and his final masterpiece was the ultimate act of detachment.The wonder of his works for me is their softness and malleability; I see different things when I look at the same painting, depending on where I am and what I’m feeling. This reflective experience is less likely to occur with representational art, though I would argue that even in the depth of its abstraction, Rothko’s art is representational, drawing its subjects from the minds of his viewers.
Given Rothko’s suicide, I found myself thinking about low tide, not in the nautical sense but as the emotional state a person is experiencing when considering ending existence. Low tide is the point at which the self is bared, the unseen sadness, hidden by high water or the rush of waves, becomes evident, and its presence must be accepted. The shells, rocks, sea creatures, and detritus that float effortlessly in the water when the tide is higher are strewn, dumped, abandoned on the naked sand. Low tide can be ugly, scary, terrifying, if you don’t like what you see. But denying the existence of these things doesn’t make them go away. Accepting them neutralizes their power to upset you, to send you over the edge.
Low tide is full of revelations and presents a priceless opportunity to explore, to pick up a striated rock or broken shell, to touch a dead crab, to finger a piece of slimy seaweed. High tide will return soon enough and hide all these treasures.You may not appreciate Rothko’s work the way I do. But evocative images surely exist for you, whether in museums or your memory. And you understand these images in a way that perhaps you cannot express. I have tried to write about that understanding here, but words are often inadequate when trying to capture feelings. A simple sigh may be the best way to say what I want to say.
In Canada and the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Read more on Suicide.
Abstract acrylic painted background courtesy of Shutterstock