Land Marks II, ©John O’Grady 2015
Oil on canvas 8″ x 8″ x 0.75″. This piece is sold framed 11″ x 11″ x 1.5″ (see below).

I have visited The Courtauld Gallery in London on a few occasions. It is one of those art collections where I could spend days if not weeks. They have one of the finest collections of impressionist and post impressionist work but save your eyes, for lying in the bowels of the building in subdued lighting is the jewel in the crown: the gothic and medieval icons.

In the minimally lit atmosphere, the gold leaf glows. One can only imagine how a believer must have felt when faced, in a dark corner of a church, by the radiating light and vibrant colours of a Fra Angelico.

Not too far from the Courtauld, on the other side of the Thames river is the Tate Modern where the Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals are displayed in their own cathedral-like room.

It takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust in the darkened room and start experiencing something quite strange. The monumental paintings, like the small icons, seek to induce a spiritual experience and yet they achieve this in a different way. Here, you are drawn in by the inner light that starts to glow in a quiet whisper.

I have only recently found out that Rothko was an enthusiast of the light in Fra Angelico’s work and after viewing these two artists’ paintings, it starts to make sense.

Mark Rothko spent many years seeking and refining a way to imbue his work with an inner glow that expressed as he called it ‘the big emotions of tragedy, ecstasy and doom’. I don’t know whether he achieved these or not but I know I have experienced a strong emotional response when standing in front of his work, particularly the Seagram Murals.

What he did without the use of gold leaf was to make the colours intone a beautifully mournful song. It is quite extraordinary. He allowed colours and tones to shade gradually into one another and thus produced softened outlines and hazy forms very much like Da Vinci did with ‘sfumato’ (to tone down or evaporate like smoke).

He also used delicate glazes of colour to build luminosity into his lozenge shapes and cool and warm colours that move forward and recede. It is all technical but through his enormous efforts, his hand and mind’s eye were unified to transmit his vision.

In making this piece, as I layered a glaze of scarlet lake and violet paint over the brown of burnt sienna in the lower part of the painting, Rothko’s paintings’ inner glow came to mind.

Then, I scraped back to reveal the yellow orange underpainting and created lines and landmarks.

Above this focal point, a fine mist of puce colour intensifies the glowing, other-worldly quality as if the mountain has a life force within itself.

I would love to hear what you think.