Rothko behind the walls

Professor Allison Morehead and stage director Charlotte Gowdy speak on Mark Rothko at AEAC

Dr. Morehead and Gowdy hold discourse regarding Rothko and the upcoming Kingston production, John Logan’s Red, a play based on the artist’s life.
Dr. Morehead and Gowdy hold discourse regarding Rothko and the upcoming Kingston production, John Logan’s Red, a play based on the artist’s life.
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Abstract expressionism has always strived to represent individualism, freedom and an authentic self.

Allison Morehead, assistant professor of art history, described Mark Rothko’s art to a fully-packed room in the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (AEAC) last Thursday.

Rothko was an American painter and commonly described as an abstract expressionist, widely known for painting with highly-saturated blocks of colour.

Morehead, while engaged in a dialogue with Charlotte Gowdy, a local professionally-trained actress and director, revived conversation regarding Rothko and the upcoming Kingston play, John Logan’s Red, based on the artist’s life.

Pat Sullivan, the public programs manager of the AEAC, acted as the moderator between the two intellectuals. She spurred a collaborative conversation regarding Morehead’s art historian perspective on Rothko, and Gowdy’s direction of Red.

Morehead began the talk by giving the audience her interpretation of abstract expressionism, recounting how this style came to be regarded as the height of the medium.

“When you think of the post-war period, you are faced with how much destruction mankind caused in this world,” she said. “Such ideas gave birth to a widespread need to define the self, and hence abstract expressionism came to the forefront. Such visual expression was important for Rothko.”

She added that abstract expressionism depicted a tortured soul on canvas, and had a lot to do with the male artist getting in touch with his non-masculine, non-violent side in order to express the authentic self.

Gowdy proceeded to give an account of the complex nature and artistic expression behind Rohtko’s art, adding that this is what motivated her to direct a play about his life.

“Rothko is so tortured by people who don’t let themselves feel anything. We need to be sensitive as human beings in order to experience how rich life can be,” Gowdy said.

With only two actors on stage, she said, directing the play will be much easier.

“There’s great chemistry between the actors, Randy Hughson and Ben Sanders, and their talent really [gives] a vibrant life to the play,” she said.

When questioned about some of the challenges that actors and directors face in Canada, Gowdy drew parallels between how Rothko’s struggle as an artist was very similar to the current situation faced by artists and directors.

“Similar to Rothko’s struggles, we as actors and directors also yearn for validation,” she said.

“We have to really strive to be acknowledged as the theatre scene in Canada is not as popular as in New York for example.” The play, she said, brings out these struggles beautifully. One of the core themes of Red is its attempts to express the role of art in society, and how it should be taken seriously.

Rothko’s work isn’t just about experiencing his art through the eyes, but taking everything in through all the senses.

“I always imagine Rothko as hiding behind the walls, weeping with joy at the enthusiasm people display upon encountering his artwork,” Gowdy said.

Red will be showing at the Kingston Grand Theatre from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14.

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