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.