Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mark Rothko, John Ford and automatic calligraphy


A piece of the catalog text Howard Putzel wrote for Mark Rothko's one-man exhibition (1945) at Peggy Guggenheim's gallery:
"Rothko's style has a latent archaic quality which the pale and uninsistent colours enforce. The particular archaization, the reverse of the primitive, suggests the long savouring of human and traditional experience as incorporated in the myth. Rothko's symbols, fragments of myth, are held together by a free, almost automatic calligraphy that gives a peculiar unity to his paintings -- a unity in which the individual symbol acquires its meaning, not in isolation, but rather in its melodic adjustment to the other elements in the picture. It is this feeling of internal fusion, of the historical conscious and subconscious capable of expanding far beyond the limit of the picture space that gives Rothko's works its force and essential character."

Reading this on the Taschen book on Rothko, I thought it was true for all great art, but especially John Ford and his The Horse Soldiers came to my mind. Let me repeat the same paragraph, replacing "Rothko" by "Ford", and "paintings" with "films". The word calligraphy has a more obvious correlation to Rothko's paintings of that period, but I find the word very descriptive of good film-style.
Ford's style has a latent archaic quality which the pale and uninsistent colours enforce. The particular archaization, the reverse of the primitive, suggests the long savouring of human and traditional experience as incorporated in the myth. Ford's symbols, fragments of myth, are held together by a free, almost automatic calligraphy that gives a peculiar unity to his films -- a unity in which the individual symbol acquires its meaning, not in isolation, but rather in its melodic adjustment to the other elements in the picture. It is this feeling of internal fusion, of the historical conscious and subconscious capable of expanding far beyond the limit of the picture space that gives Ford's works its force and essential character.



In a letter to the New York Times, Mark Rothko and his friends Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman wrote (1943):
"It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints, as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless. That is why we profess a spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art."

No comments: