Obviously, this is probably not the Rothko that you're very familiar with: The Rothko of the cover of the catalog, the Mark Rothko that really has put his personal stamp on the New York school, on this abstract expressionist group of painters. Rather, this is something that precedes that. And as we'll see there's really three very distinct periods of Rothko's work, and it's very easy to say, "Oh, wow, it's amazing how different these periods are." But I like to flip that coin over for a moment and focus on some of these things that actually are maintained quite consistently between what, at first glance, may appear to be quite disparate styles. Well, what style is this? I'd like to suggest that it's something in the vein of surrealism, it's something in the vein of biomorphic abstraction. Again, biomorphic is strange word shapes from nature. What kind of nature? Well, your guess is as good as mine. But to me, this seems like something derived from looking at maybe underwater photography, aquatic animals, something that looks like this rather bulbous form that has some kind of fluted or trumpeted neck, or a mouth, or something like that. Clearly there's stuff. What kind of space is it? Well it's a shallow pictorial space, but there is a floor. Is it an ocean floor, is it an interior? Again, we don't really know. I wouldn't be surprised if Rothko didn't really know either. But rather this is a kind of quasi abstract painting that's informed by a lot of close looking at nature. Are these actual animals and plants? No. Are they purely abstract? No, not that either. Rather one informing the other and a dialogue back and forth between figuration and abstraction. Now, getting into these kind of consistencies with the Rothko that we all know and love, I'd like to suggest that this is a kind of painting, it's oil paint by the way, but it's a kind of oil painting that's treating the canvas almost like the realm of watercolor painting. And by that I mean that the light source, if you will, is this white ground that's underneath the paint. And because the paint is so transparent, brushed on with a lot of turpentine, a lot of solvent. Sometimes a lot of medium, that clear linseed oil added to the paint to increase the gloss. In some cases even adding varnish directly to the paint to really increase the gloss and also increase the transparency. Because we have all these translucent paint applications, the lightness of the ground shines through all of these translucent paint applications just in the way that when you're working in watercolor the whiteness of the page is the light source. You're kind of staining over that. It's exactly the way that Rothko has treated this painting. And although he's painting stuff, this quasi abstract stuff, when he moves into his so-called mature period, later in the 1940s, by the way, only two or three years later in the 1940s, he's using those same exact paint applications, but now in a purely abstract realm as we'll see momentarily. Interestingly, there's some dry media marks, and by dry media I'm referring to crayon or oil pastel. These kind of marks that are made with a hard material. Not flowing paint, but rather something drying, a rather coarse. A rather large surface, but drying on the painting. But then what's this stuff? What's this kind of splatter? Well, actually what it is, it's a brush just wet with solvent. Perhaps the can of solvent that you're leaving your brushes in after you've painted to keep them wet. Well, this kind of thing splashing the solvent onto this crayon, or oil pastel and activating this dry media in all these different directions. So you almost have a little mini explosion or a flash of, you know, dry media becoming paint actually and having that black of that crayon being dispersed in a very active way. Moving down here, we see some very, very strange and interesting brushwork of this very, very milky white brushed down vertically over this strange kind of brown ocean floor, or what have you. What we're seeing here is a quite opaque white but one really, really milked out with a lot of solvent. Meaning that we see little grains of that white pigment collecting. And although that white is very, very opaque, you can't see through it when you see a little chunk of it, it's so dispersed on the canvas, we're seeing all these streaks through it. So again almost like a veil of something. Something falling in the ocean. You've all seen Discovery Channel, this kind of thing, is really this very supernatural thing that comes from well, actually, nature. And Rothko is picking and grabbing from these natural phenomenon that he's seen either in life or in photography, probably in both, and bringing them into this abstract space. Is it totally abstract? No, though, with this very beautifully painted spiral, we clearly have a realm of one-point perspective, which dates back to the Renaissance. This spiral clearly indicates that this here, that you can think the rings of Saturn or something like that, is very much in your own space. Whereas this red back here is kind of far away. How was that done? Well, graphicly, certainly, but also this red back here is a little bit less eye popping. It's a little bit weaker than this one here, so this read hits you in the eye first and this top one recedes a little bit. It's a little bit grayer, the chrome is a little bit lower, it feels like it's a little bit further away. What else is Rothko doing here? Well, there is actually remnants of cubism, and don't forget cubism has really not gone away in New York in this moment in the 1940s. This very flat kind of strange reading of cubism, but these shards of something, broken up, superimposed into space, which are very flat and proudly announcing the pictorial plane. Even more so these lines, which almost seem like something out of Malevich, or something like that, that are exactly on the surface and make you realize it's purely two dimensional. So from a perspectival application Rothko's really using all these different forms in tension with each other. Some things appear purely decorative, this arabesque here. Other things, as we've shown, seem like they're based on nature. One other thing I'd like to close with in this painting, and it's another aspect of continuity, is the idea matte and gloss applications of paint. This painting is not varnished and never was and never should be. And the reason why Rothko is directly manipulating the glossiness of his paint, either with variable medium additions or by locally varnishing or adding varnish into the paint, because he's interested in playing certain areas off of one another in terms of gloss. Very interestingly, it's 1945, we see Rothko doing that. We see Rothko doing that specifically right here in this area. We see Rothko taking a lot of varnish on his brush, a little bit of pigment, and scribbling back and forth accenting these brush strokes off. Then moving back to the left side of the canvas, we see Rothko doing the same thing here where we have some very, very glossy paint applications in tension with his very, very matte surrounding an underlying paint. Now, here that may seem something subtle. This became a growing preoccupation for Rothko, and by the end of his career we see paintings which, one could almost say, are about the nature of light reflecting or being absorbed by the painted surface.