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Gordon, P. (1996). The simple expression of the complex emotion: reflections on the painting of Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn. Free Associations, 6(1):112-124.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(1):112-124

The simple expression of the complex emotion: reflections on the painting of Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn

Paul Gordon

We know, often with blinding obviousness, what it is we are trying to say about our relations or non-relations with the poem, the painting, the sonata. Yet we do not know either how to say it or, in any falsifiable, material sense, exactly what it is we are talking about.

(Steiner 1989, p. 186)

For as long as I can remember I have loved the paintings of Mark Rothko. My aquaintance with the work of Richard Diebenkorn is, as I explain later, more recent. The remarks that follow represent an attempt, inevitably personal, to make sense of this affection.1

Mark Rothko: ‘Landscapes of the Spirit’

I cannot recall the first time that I ever encountered a painting by Mark Rothko, but for as long as I can remember I know that they have moved me in ways that few other paintings have. One Sunday, bleak and grey in that particular way that British Sundays can be, in an attempt to shake myself free of the grip of a monumental depression, I struggled through insane traffic jams until eventually I reached the Tate Gallery. I must have seen these paintings before for I seemed to know they were there and without stopping to look at anything else, I made my way directly to the Rothko room.

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