Who is your favorite painter?
Mark Rothko was always one of my favorite artists and considering today is 114th anniversary of his birth (he was born Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz on September 25, 1903) and also my birthday I wanted to share a personal, Rothko related story.
A couple of years ago I was talking to someone near and dear to me and mentioned how much I loved Rothko’s art.
He proceeded to tell me: “Oh, Rothko, that abstract expressionist? Did I ever tell you my great uncle was his student and adored Rothko? He always praised him and said Rothko was his favorite teacher, kind and encouraging to his students. In fact, my great uncle loved Rothko so much and spoke so highly of him it sometimes even annoyed me listening to it while I was a kid.”
I was, of course, delighted to hear Rothko was a wonderful, devoted teacher and felt happy to hear there is someone else who also adores his work as much as I do. Even though I haven’t met the old man in question I always felt we share a connection in our mutual admiration for Mark Rothko.
Last January I had an exceptionally vivid dream that felt strangely realistic. I’ve found myself in Rothko’s studio surrounded by his canvases. Do you know how sometimes places in dreams get a bit distorted, for example you dream you’re staying at your friend’s house that doesn’t look like their place at all but you still experience it as their's, or you dream you’re standing on Times Square that doesn’t even slightly resemble the actual place? Well, in my dream Rothko’s studio wasn’t a made up or distorted place, it looked just like his real studio that I’ve seen on photos, it also felt real. Sometimes dreams can feel fluid, light and fleeting and and as soon as we become aware of people, events and spaces in our dreams they start changing, distorting and are sometimes hard to grasp. This dream didn’t feel fluid or light, the place I found myself at felt real and there was a feeling of solidity and heaviness under my feet just as if I was standing firmly with both feet on solid ground.
I was fully aware I was dreaming as I usually am, but again something was different about this particular lucid dream. Not long into it I met (middle aged) Rothko who said I was going to be his apprentice. I felt very insecure (I mean who am I to be Rothko’s apprentice?!) but Rothko was very kind and encouraged me to help him to finish one of his paintings, he kept telling me that I was doing amazing job and wouldn’t let me criticize myself. After that he asked me about my art and offered to help me out with it. I showed him my drawings and called them “pathetic” but once again Rothko wouldn’t allowed me to underestimate my own work and praised me while helping me to finish one of my illustrations. I felt honored and grateful and also moved by his genuine kindness and interest. Later in the dream, some art critics and journalist visited his studio and he introduced me as his apprentice saying I was doing great work. At that point I was so moved that I started to cry.
After waking up I was still under the impression of this unusual dream and Rothko’s kindness and support I’ve experienced so intensely in it. My heart was overflowing with gratitude for such a dream and I felt very happy.
Naturally I wanted to share my dream with the person with whom I’ve previously talked about my (and his uncle’s) admiration for Rothko so I skyped him and enthusiastically begun talking about my dream when he stopped me by saying: “Asja… I’ve got to tell you something. My great uncle passed away last night as you were having your dream.” Of course I felt sad and confused by the timing of the dream, I didn’t know what to make of it.
Later that day I tried processing my emotions by painting and as I was working on a red under-painting I suddenly and inexplicably felt I knew how to blend color tones in a more sophisticated way. As if my knowledge of working with color has somehow deepened or expanded and I could feel it in movements of my hand, my wrist, my bones and my blood. I just knew how to make red feel more red, how to make it more powerful, how to imbue it with life force. As irrational as it sounds as if Rothko has generously shared some of his knowledge with me. I continued to work on my painting with deep feeling of reverence for the artist and in honor of his student who has passed away the same night as I met Rothko in my dream.
Still, to this day I remember that experience of a lucid dream with gratitude and fondness and I strongly believe that Rothko was not only a brilliant artist but also an extraordinary, compassionate and encouraging teacher.
Happy birthday Mark Rothko, thank you for the art and your legacy!