Jennifer C Vigil

Jennifer Vigil at the Mark Rothko retrospective at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris, France. ©Jennifer C. Vigil 2024

Discovering Rothko’s Secrets–The Key To Developing Your Artistic Voice

TLDR: The journey to finding our artistic voice takes time but is worth the effort. There are hints of where we will end up in our current work. We need to work in all three phases of the creative process to get there. Look for the pivot piece. And why it is crucial to encourage your students to discover the “why” behind their work.

Serenity, tension, despair, tragedy, seeking, yearning, ethereal transcendence.

These are just some of the emotions that washed over me as I wandered through the Mark Rothko exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation. 

Mark Rothko Retrospective 2024. Louis Vuitton Foundation
Mark Rothko Exhibition, Louis Vuitton Foundation, 2024.

The emotional experience mirrored the moody, foggy grey weather that day in Paris. 

The late January weather encouraged introspection and silence as my fellow artist and dear friend, Victoria Veedell, and I made our way across Paris and through the park to the Louis Vuitton Foundation.

Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris, France. Jennifer C. Vigil. Mark Rothko Retrospective
Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris, France.

I wanted to see the exhibition but wasn’t planning to travel from Madrid to Paris just to see it. I spend Februarys visiting my son, Andrew, in Madrid. 

Of course, I immediately said, “Yes, I will meet you in Paris!” when Victoria texted me about seeing the Rothko retrospective with her, knowing I would be in Spain.

So why was I so excited to see this show AND with Victoria?

I have always been drawn to the emotional landscape of Rothko’s work. 

I am fascinated by how his layering and juxtaposition of color and the movement of his brushstrokes combine to create works that penetrate our souls and invite us into his emotional landscape. 

At its core, Rothko’s work is about human connection and how we negotiate the complexity of the human psyche–the potential for love and joy alongside our capacity for hate and cruelty that create fertile ground for despair to flourish.

Victoria is an atmospheric landscape painter whose work captures the emotion of a place, an echo of memories of connection, awe, and the sublime in nature. 

Victoria Veedell
Victoria Veedell, Landscape in Green and Gold, 2019

Her work has the color sensibility of Monet and the emotional evocativeness of Rotko. So, I couldn’t pass a chance to see the work of two artists who influenced her work with her. 

We planned to see the Mark Rothko retrospective and then go to the Marmottan to see the Berthe Morisot and Claude Monet exhibitions. The Van Gogh exhibit was sold out (it was the last weekend), so we did a very Parisian thing and purchased a dual membership to the Musee d’Orsay so we could get a ticket and skip the line into the show.

I was eager for us to discuss how each artist layered color to elicit emotional responses from the viewer. How and why the different color palettes resonate with us, and why color is a fundamental compositional element.

The Rothko retrospective did not disappoint! 

I didn’t know much about his earlier work and was impressed by how the curators told the story of his artistic journey and stylistic transformation. 

Mark Rothko is known for his emotionally evocative color field paintings, not the early portraits and urbanscapes. These earlier works evolved into surrealist explorations that referenced mythology in an effort to create a visual vocabulary to speak about the monsters of his time.

As we read about his search to create a visual lexicon to address the horrors of his era, I turned to Victoria. I commented that we need to figure out a visual language to discuss the current monsters–climate crisis, political chaos, war, genocide, poverty, famine, inequality, etc. 

Sadly, the demons are the same, just with different faces.

That realization made me appreciate why Rothko turned to mythology as a visual metaphor for his monsters in his middle phase work.

As we approached the color field paintings, Victoria asked me, “What is the pivot piece?” 

Lost in his work, I asked her to repeat the question. 

Yes! That is the big question here! 

What piece signaled the shift to his final style, the realization of his artistic voice?

We were now on the hunt for this piece. We made our way through the rest of the exhibition and then returned to the first room with the mission to find the thread, the hint of what was to come.

Here are the pieces we thought illustrate what was to come in each stage of his career:

Mark Rothko, Portrait, 1939.
Mark Rothko, Portrait 1939
Mark Rothko, The Omen of the Eagle, 1942, oil and graphite on canvas.
Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1949.
Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1949.

The exhibition reveals how he systematically worked through the 3 stages of creating artwork: research & planning, experimentation & exploration, and creation & execution. 

Creating With Purpose Chart detailing the 3 phases of creating art--research & planning, exploration & experimentation, creation & execution. ©JenniferCVigil

A significant part of his “research” was his involvement in artist communities, like The Ten, and schools like the Art Students League of New York. His artist community included Alfred Gottlieb (his life-long friend), Barnett Newman, Joseph Solman, John Graham, and their mentor, Milton Avery. They vacationed together, painting in the day and spending the nights discussing art.

Here’s the secret I’ve learned from studying the lives of successful artists…

Being part of an artist community is integral to developing their artistic voice and critical for their success.

Why?

Because having a community of artists with whom you can discuss ideas and each other’s work and who challenge you to go deeper and push the boundaries of what you are doing in your work is critical.

Your community should push you to examine the “why” behind your work and encourage you to continue to grow.

The Rothko exhibition was well curated, revealing the complicated layers of his artistic evolution, the role of his artists’ communities, and his, at times, fraught journey to convey his message in his work. 

What is the takeaway?

     

      • Understanding the “why,” the message, and the purpose behind your work is critical to your artistic journey. It is what drives everything else. 

      • The ideas behind your work will evolve and may change. 

      • It is essential to encourage your students to explore the concepts behind their work from the very beginning. 

      • The concepts or ideas behind your work are the messages you and your students want to convey and don’t need to be overly profound, just meaningful to you/ them.

    If you are curious about the 3 step process of creating a work of art, get the Creating With Purpose guide. I have the chart hanging in my studio and use it to stay focused and plan my studio time.

    Part of my Research & Planning for my art practice involves traveling to see exhibitions. Stay tuned for how I incorporate what I learned from my Paris and London art adventures in my current body of work.

     

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