I thought it would have more to do with the paintings. I looked at them for a long time, waiting to see something beneath the layers, but I didn’t see anything more than massive black canvases with barely visible borders.

The quiet stillness though;

Two men bowed their heads in the front row, and another sat somewhere near the middle in deep thought. He wiped a tear from his eye. A girl walked around the room for a long time, stopping and staring at each painting as though searching for something. After I walked around a bit, observing the room and looking deeply into each piece, I sat and stared at the paintings awhile longer.

Surely I was missing something.

I left Rothko’s chapel and wandered around in the rain. I needed to empty my mind and body of stress and anxiety, and it was though God sent the rain to do just that. I had no umbrella or jacket, just a ragged pair of wet jeans and wet, tangled hair. I found peace, or rather it found me. I looked into the cold clear pool that held the Broken Obelisk, and I let the rain run through me, rinsing away all my unease, making ripples in the pool.

I walked through puddles to the Menil, where I found a trove of surreal artwork that made me smile. Giggle even. Then back toward the Chapel I found the Byzantine. A fantastic surprise awaited me there in the form of a gigantic wall covered end-to-end in different renditions of the same painting. The space was dark and empty, with only the decorated wall lit. I found a seat that reclined me so that I could see the entire wall without having to exert a single muscle in my body, so that not even the physical distraction of looking up could keep me from taking in completely the repetition and variations that spread before me.

Satisfied by my discoveries, I was ready for another visit to the Rothko Chapel to find what I didn’t see the first time.

The girl still stood among the paintings, entranced maybe, but by what? A man sat on the floor, meditating. The room was empty otherwise, and I sat in the center turning my body around to see the composition as it flowed along the walls. I looked up, and that’s when I saw the light. Literally.

At the center of the ceiling, a bright light, perhaps a skylight or something else, beamed in the middle of complete darkness, somehow without disturbing it. The room now appeared to be flooded with soft ambient shades of grey and purple and brown—filtered by the paintings that at first looked black but now showed deep hues of blue and purple. My eyes followed the lights in the room, lights that softly lit the tops of the walls and cast shadows below the paintings and around corners. I looked straight ahead and saw perfect symmetry of light and shadow playing with the subtle colors of the massive paintings. And I felt, well, centered.

The Chapel is not about the paintings like I thought it would be. Everything, the clever architecture, the paintings, the light, exist as a single, harmonious…experience?

Next time I won’t look so hard. Next time, I’ll just sit and be.




Author: uncaged

When Picasso painted a blue Seated Woman in a Chair, he was unconsciously thinking of me.

7 thoughts on “Centered.”

  1. Hmm.
    Blue Sweater//Red Pants.

    What I’ve been working on:
    “Now instead at the Byzantine Fresco, one is spared an endless imagining of parallel lives to face unexplored loves instead. Four-hundred-and-fifty reproductions of a singular image, that of 4th century Saint Fabiola chart the visage of a single woman in the endless hands and eyes of modern man. If you partake, you are asked to find your favorite face, your favorite fetish, your favorite aesthetic through the course of human history. There is the chaste, the ornate, the damaged; the simple, the fierce, the rouged; the ancient and the new. Each a different window view into a life not lived, a wife yet loved. The hypervibrant and the monochrome, the iconoclast and regressionary; four hundred fifty studios to imagine oneself in and painting by fervent passion or forlorn memory. Which hand is your hand, which face is theirs?
    That’s the immense presence of contemporary religious art.
    And the vein set by the Chapel.

    I’m glad you went.


    1. I’m glad I went, too. I couldn’t have chosen a better day to go, what with the rain.

      I stayed in the Byzantine for a long time, partly for the overwhelming satisfaction, euphoric almost, repetition on such a massive scale. I wondered who the woman was and why she was so important that people all over the world painted some version of the same image of her. Part of the Rothko experience, from the moment I stepped into the Chapel, was a dizzy awe at the size of the paintings. I gasped at the gigantic wall of faces in the dark room, and I was speechless in the midst of the huge canvases. But It wasn’t until I saw the room in the chapel for what it is that I was rendered entranced, lost in the detail of light and symmetry.

      Next time I go, I’ll search for my favorite version of the woman.

      I’m curious which one is yours.


    2. I replied to this comment, but it didn’t go through. So if it shows up twice, that’s why. Anyhow…

      By the way, your writing and analysis is great. You showed me something I didn’t see or think about, and it makes me want to go back.


  2. If I have a favorite, I’m sure I designated it in my first view, but as I cannot recall it now, I do know if I can claim it as such.

    What has stayed with me however is not which canvas pleases me most aesthetically, it is the canvas bottom center aligned, with what appears to be a hammer blow through it.

    There’s also the large top left portrait that covers the same area as nine or so more traditionally sized canvases, her profile facing forward, rightward, against the grain, against an outdoor landscape in a blue cloak. It massively doesn’t fit, and I think it stares right at you.

    But it’s a disservice to try and catalog her by memory.


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