Rothko’s paintings are neither color fields nor images,- there is a mysterious thingness to them. At the same time they have a transcendental corporeality the way the light of the colors shines. At the same time, they are emotionally charged. According to his son, Mark Rothko spoke of his paintings as ‘Dramas’ which places these paintings directly in the human realm. These paintings are emotions, viewers feel joy, sometimes cry with his paintings.
There exist countless interpretations of Rothko’s paintings, none are exhaustive, nor do they claim to be. Neither is this a singular attempt, rather a kind of close-up experience of his work, particularly the Seagram's Building Murals for the Restaurant the Four Seasons.
Many critics have pointed out the relation to art history in Rothko’s work being one rather of a continuum rather than a break. Similarly, in relation to the Seagram’s murals relations have been drawn by several art historians to the Pompeian Murals Villa of the Mysteries as well as the Laurentian Library by Michelangelo. Mark Rothko loved and studied both while working on the Seagram’s works. Both lack Windows, that is to say, in the Laurentian Library the windows are filled or blind, leading to an interior looking space, fitting for a library. The deep reds and the continuum for red as in the murals of the Villa of the Mysteries are paralleled in the Seagram’s work. The Dyonisean Appollonean theme of the murals points as some critics have pointed out perhaps towards Bachian themes, perhaps though also towards renewal, more importantly. The tectonic relations between the murals, the library and the Seagram’s work is very beautiful and subtle. There is a kind of hint of an architecture and a breadth of space. At the same time the figures from the murals appear to be missing. This supposed ejection of the figures is often referred to as Rothko’s modernity, his point of abstraction in creating this emotional space. Could it however be, that Rothko has not ejected the figures but rather that the public of the Seagram’s restaurant has become the mural figures come alive in these wonderous ‘panels’? In doing so Rothko has transcended any and all boundaries between the painting and the viewer. This is an amazing mise en scene of any and all modern paintings and I would argue this transposition is at work in all of Rothko’s so called non - figurative work. The viewer hence becomes an actor, whether solemn or joyous, public or singular.
I would never argue that Rothko is creating an architecture of feeling. Yet there is a tectonic insistence in his work, a singular center guiding much of the different paintings that when seen together could be an architectural insistence, a kind of spatial metronome, to borrow a musical term. Rothko’s love for Music is known, and it is perhaps not surprising, that in painting Rothko found the fusion of Music and Architecture, emotional spaces permeating everything, us always included.