Considering that I used to go visit my dad in Houston pretty regularly when he lived there, I am saddened that we never went to the Rothko Chapel. In my own defense, I had not yet discovered the brilliance that was Mark R0thko and his use of color block paintings to convey transcendental emotions. In this sacred space are the final paintings Mark Rothko completed before his suicide, a series of black tones on huge canvases. You would think they would be sorrowful and empty, but everything I’ve seen of the chapel conveys something else.
Rothko’s work brings a peace to my mind that nothing else has ever done. It is the closest I’ve ever come to true silence in my head–no mean feat given the hamster wheel consistency of my brain. These paintings are to me the Zen concept of nothing mind in color. And the light, oh my stars, the light! I will never know how he did it, but Rothko captured light in a way that I cannot describe as anything but pure. Even his darkest paintings–and those in the chapel qualify–convey a sense of the depth and gradation of light. The dim brightness of the sunrise, the gentle wash of the sunset. It’s all there, and it is a miracle.
So imagine my surprise and joy when I found out there was music composed to accompany the Rothko Chapel paintings. The chapel opened not long after Rothko’s death, and they commissioned his friend Morton Feldman to compose a piece. It is perfect. I don’t mean perfect as a piece of music, although I think it is very, very good. I mean that is matches these paintings perfectly, complimenting their monochromatic atonality and diversity, creating a space for meditation and quiet while simultaneously honoring their spirituality.
I’ll get back to Houston one day and see the chapel in person. Until then, I can listen to it.