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Mark Rothko, Four Darks in Red, 1958

From Where We Are, America Is Hard to See

Apr 30, 2015


Mark Rothko, Four Darks in Red, 1958


A.M. Homes: And I think for me, looking at Mark Rothko paintings was, for lack of a better description, the first time I saw myself in art. 

Narrator: Novelist A.M. Homes.

A.M. Homes: I also think it’s an incredibly compressed field which always amazes me that he is able to take everything from horror and ecstasy and pure, sheer rage and the most sublime, delicate, wonderful experience and boil it all down and render it as indivisible. Each element is there and you can't even begin to break apart which one is which.

I think that he achieves in his paintings what I'm trying to achieve in fiction. Which is that expression of the things that go unseen and unsaid and unarticulated. And I'd never seen anything—color, gesture, texture—represent an emotional experience so fully. So that meant an incredible amount to me.

The story of me and Mark Rothko is that when I was a kid, my father, who's a painter, used to go every weekend and look at art in Washington. And every weekend, I would eventually go with him. Because in addition to being a lover of art, my father was also incredibly picky about what foods we ate and what we could have in the house. And he was a real health food fanatic early on. So we had no cookies, we had no cake, we had no twinkies or hohos. We also couldn’t have grapes that weren’t picked by union workers and no iceberg lettuce and no soda. But if you went with my father to look at art, at a certain point he could break down and he would take you to the cafeteria. And in addition to not allowing sweets he also kind of got overwhelmed in the cafeteria because I think it was his big moment as well and so you could pick out whatever you wanted. And you could usually pick out more than one thing. So you could have pie AND Jello which I think was almost anti-religious in our family. And I would go with him, and I would sit in museums all over Washington, looking at art for hours and hours and hours, and having this accidental art education where I would just stare at the painting sitting on benches waiting for him. And in the end it turned out it was really incredibly marvelous. And I discovered Mark Rothko among many other artists. And had very nice pie at the end of the day. And I think it's in a large part how I became who I became.