Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) and Mark Rothko (1903-1970) might not seem natural subjects for a Q combination. She was an American poet who rarely, if ever, left her hometown in Massachussets or even her bedroom. Yet she managed to convey real depth through an effortless lightness. He was from a Jewish family from Russia, which emigrated to the USA when he was just 10. His paintings at first sight seem simple, simplistic even. But they are heavily worked, and heavy in resonance.
For resonate is precisely what his paintings do. The Tate Modern in London has a whole room dedicated to Rothko’s Maroon paintings. It is quite a surreal experience to sit there in an unrushed, almost meditative attitude. These strange colours seem to thrum, exuding a bizarre energy. It’s as if these two-dimensional, inanimate objects have their own life-force.
That sounds ridiculous, of course, and if I was a celebrity, it would undoubtedly qualify for an entry in Private Eye’s Pseud’s Corner. But it’s true, I say! I’m not the only one who has experienced this. And that is why it seems to chime with Emily Dickinson’s gossamer-fragile words. For even in the darkest times, ‘on the strangest sea’, hope sustains and spurs. It has a life of its own, like a ‘thing with feathers that perches in the soul.’
The tragedy for Rothko was that he couldn’t hold onto hope. He committed suicide in 1970. Yet somehow, I find his work offers hope. There is life and energy, even in the darkest, or unlikeliest places. And that, it seems to me, is precisely why hope is so powerful.