Modern and Contemporary Art
Number 24 (Untitled)
This work is an example of the compositional format that Mark Rothko created in 1947, and to which he remained faithful throughout his career: rectangles of color with dissolving margins are arranged one above the other; and float upon the picture plane surrounded by a halo-like frame.
Rothko applied the paint to the canvas using paintbrushes, sponges, and cloths, with which he created ethereal layers of color. Because the paint was totally absorbed into the untreated canvas, an effect of flatness was obtained. Despite the dematerialization of the paint, however, it is impossible to ignore the achievement of a certain depth, which is more conceptual than optical. As one examines his canvases, foreground and background planes seem to materialize, looking as if they were separated by a narrow space and were about to merge into a single plane. This subtle effect does not disturb the contemplative stillness inspired by the work in its totality. In the course of viewing the painting, one passes from a “concrete” level of observation (which creates possible associations with space, atmosphere, mist and fire) to a transcendental, contemplative, and mystical one.
Rothko saw the light that appears to emanate from the painting as an embodiment of inner light, a key to emotion and spirituality. Like most of his works, Number 24 constitutes a continuous expanse of color in which there is no singular element to focus on, thus evoking a sense of infinity. This effect connects Rothko’s work to the aesthetics of the sublime, which was also pursued by several of his colleagues in the New York School.