Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Art Makes Us See 'Red'

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Art Makes Us See 'Red'

Article excerpt

When I was just starting my career as a journalist in the early 1980s at United Press International, I was assigned a story about a major gift of Mark Rothko paintings and paintings to the National Gallery and other museums.

"Mark who?" I hated to ask.

I was suddenly immersed in a day or two spent with experts (or pretentious pretenders) in the world of contemporary art who were freely speaking about Rothko's relevance and importance. The name was sort of familiar, but I knew nothing about him or his style of using rectangular forms amid a solid-color background.

If only John Logan had written his absorbing and fascinating play "Red" 30 years ago. I would have had something to go on in those days before the Internet, Google searches and Wikipedia, which at least can give you a jump on research and allow you to see samples of his work.

But those sometimes superficial tools are the research equivalent of the very things that Rothko decries in Logan's often powerful and involving play. He's not interested in painting pretty pictures and making things easy. He wants to tap into your heart and mind.

From the start, Rothko forces his young assistant, Ken, to really look at the paintings on display and express what he sees.

"Let it pulsate," Rothko tells him. "Let it fill your existence."

He insists that Ken needs to know more than pop culture. He needs to look at great art, read the best literature and understand history. It's all part of making a complete artist.

I don't pretend to be any kind of expert on Rothko but I want to learn a lot more about him after seeing this play, produced by the Asolo Repertory Theatre in conjunction with the Ringling Museum of Art at the Historic Asolo Theater.

It is a rare play that finds a truly theatrical way to explore the creative process while forcing an artist to defend his intentions and his life's work. Writers may sit for hours on end at a keyboard or with a notebook in hand, waiting for the words to come. …

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