ROTHKO  |  SUGIMOTO
FROM DEAD HORIZON TO THE SUBLIME.
(following the exhibition at Pace Gallery, London 4 October- 17 November 2012)

“Rothko and Sugimoto think in terms of eras of history and eons of organic life, not the decades of their own lives. Rothko had directed his art, as Sugimoto does now, to a primal, evolutionary sense of being human. What is true of Rothko and Sugimoto becomes true of all of us when we attend to their experience—if we encounter the limits of human feeling and perception that Rothko’s paintings and Sugimoto’s photographs represent. We then recognize the condition that already constitutes our living … Immersed in an artist’s sea of light—this aesthetic entry into nature, history, and other beings—we become aware of our conscious awareness.” (Richard Shiff)

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Introducing in London eight paintings from the American Mark Rothko and eight photographs from the Japanese Hiroshi Sugimoto, Pace Gallery opens a dialogue between the two artists as well as two mediums: painting and photography.
Instantly, the sight is being captured by the space arising from the inside of the artworks, between the milky veil of the sea and the flat emptiness of the earth, the blacks of the heavens and the misty nothingness.
Photographs presented belong to the Seascapes series, taken between 1980 and 2003: from the immutable seascapes of the Tyrrhenian Sea to The Sea of Japan and The Caribbean Sea, Sugimoto has been looking for tracks of an original and primitive landscape1.  Each time the horizon defines two rectangles from light to dark greys, drawing a dividing line between the sky and the earth, the divine and earthling worlds.  One can also find this line in Rothko’s Dark Paintings, especially in the series shown, painted in 1969, a year before his death. These paintings are actually disrupting with all what he did before, reducing his palette to blue-and-brown- tainted blacks and greys, and limiting his painting to those two rectangles, one on the top of the other. The canvasses are surrounded by a white margin, characteristic of the series, which encloses colour fields and underlines their confinement. The horizon, unstable, seems to be vibrating: it’s never totally flat, and each space seems to be wishing to overlap on each other.
In Sugimoto’s, light divides them, sometimes as intense as a glare suddenly arising from an horizontal slit: the sun sets the rules on the two spheres and puts things back in place. In both artworks, there is a cosmological vision of the world and an attempt to find a pre-existing order. Their meditating artwork sends back to one’s own inside world and deep conflicts, defining every individual and every single thing by a perpetual search for an unstable balance. No care about the real: the Earth, the Sea and the Sky are metaphoric spaces in which everyone is being mirrored. Paradoxically, an intimate feeling comes out the presented big-sized artworks: «I paint large pictures because I want to create a state of intimacy. A large picture is an immediate transaction; it takes you into it.2»
Confronting artworks underlines an antagonist usage of light: absorbed by the matter in Rothko’s paintings, it turns into a sparkling source in Sugimoto’s photographs. One switches simultaneously from a withdrawal to a bang, back-and-forth constant move that finally shapes our relation to the world. Light also is a big experimental field for Sugimoto, what is widely expressed in his later work, Lightning Fields (2009). Light is not only the ultimate photographic tool, it’s also what gives life, what enlightens it. In this way, Sugimoto enlightens the world and offers its infinity and mystery. Locked in the dark room, the photographer gives birth to what he calls «static electricity spectrums», capturing them onto silver prints, as a tribute to the electricity pioneers.
Singing mantras in his laboratory, he re-creates life and shapes strange creatures, half-lightning, half-tree, their vitality contrasting on the deep black.
It’s probably this essential energy that differentiates the two artists: the photographer’s quasi scientific experiments along with his humour are deprived of any feeling, for Rothko’s floating structures take you towards an anxious emptiness.
To Rothko, the insignificance of the self comes from a personal experience he lived in Oregon, USA, where he emigrated when he was 10: in front of this american landscape, drowned in the mist, he felt the dissolving of his self, looking at a car, a small black point in the distance, slowly melting away in the milky nothingness. As a huge Jung, Freud and Nietzsche reader (La Naissance De La Tragédie), the painter wanted to take up with the primitive mythologies as the modern art background, Art being a way to balance its absence in the contemporary society. Through his work, the artist was searching for spirituality and dreaming of «transcendental experiences». Sick, he killed himself in 1970.
His mysticism is embodied in the Houston’s «for people of every belief» octagonal chapel paintings from his early 60’s, and are amazingly echoing Sugimoto’s Tadao Ando The Church of Light chapel.  Rothko was born to a jewish family, tradition in which God’s image is not figured. Inside the chapel, the artist has nevertheless abstractly figured the 14 stations of the Cross in deep dark browns. One can feel the invisible presence of the Divine all along his artwork, His veil covering every attempt of the artist to transcend painting and reality.
With Sugimoto, this undoubtedly vain and delusive reality opens onto thinking fields, a positive emptiness as a synonym for eternity and possibilities. This is the Japanese Ma, an empty space – the absence of sound, colour and shape- that yet encloses future worlds.

Through two different approaches, the painter and the photographer are searching for the sublime. Both concentrate the whole universe in their artwork, condensing space and time to better let them arise.

Caroline Ha Thuc.
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1 Please refer to our previous piece on Sugimoto in Naoshima
2 Excerpt from notes taken at a lecture by Mark Rothko at the Pratt Institute, published in an article by Dore Ashon in Cimaise, December 1958.

In honour of the exhibition Rothko/Sugimoto: Dark Paintings and Seascapes, Pace London hosted an exclusive conversation between Hiroshi Sugimoto and Christopher Rothko, the son of Mark Rothko, exploring affinities between the two artists. A video of the discussion is available here.

credits:
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1- Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on paper mounted on canvas 182.9 x 123.5 cm (72 x 48-5/8″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto Ligurian Sea, Saviore, 1993 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
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2-Hiroshi Sugimoto Ligurian Sea, Saviore, 1993 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on paper mounted on canvas 182.9 x 123.5 cm (72 x 48-5/8″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on paper mounted on canvas 180.3 x 120 cm (71 x 47-1/4″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto Lake Superior, Cascade River, 1995 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
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3-Hiroshi Sugimoto Ligurian Sea, Saviore, 1993 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on paper mounted on canvas 182.9 x 123.5 cm (72 x 48-5/8″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on paper mounted on canvas 180.3 x 120 cm (71 x 47-1/4″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto Lake Superior, Cascade River, 1995 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto Bay of Sagami, Atami, 1997 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
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4-Hiroshi Sugimoto Ligurian Sea, Saviore, 1993 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
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5-Hiroshi Sugimoto English Channel, Weston Cliff, 1994 gelatin silver print 119.4 cm x 149.2 cm (47″ x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on paper mounted to canvas 184.2 x 106.7 cm (72-1/2 x 42″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
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6-Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on canvas 205.7 x 236.2 cm (81 x 93″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto Bay of Sagami, Atami, 1997 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on canvas 266.7 x 288.9 cm (105 x 113-3/4″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto Bass Strait, Table Cape, 1997 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto Lake Superior, Cascade River, 2003 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
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7-Hiroshi Sugimoto Bay of Sagami, Atami, 1997 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on canvas 205.7 x 236.2 cm (81 x 93″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto English Channel, Weston Cliff, 1994 gelatin silver print 119.4 cm x 149.2 cm (47″ x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
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8-Hiroshi Sugimoto Bay of Sagami, Atami, 1997 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on canvas 266.7 x 288.9 cm (105 x 113-3/4″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
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9- Hiroshi Sugimoto Bass Strait, Table Cape, 1997 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto Lake Superior, Cascade River, 2003 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto English Channel, Weston Cliff, 1994 gelatin silver print 119.4 cm x 149.2 cm (47″ x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on canvas 205.7 x 236.2 cm (81 x 93″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto Bay of Sagami, Atami, 1997 gelatin silver print 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
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10- Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on paper mounted on canvas 213.4 x 149.9 cm (84 x 59″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Hiroshi Sugimoto Tyrrhenian Sea, Mount Polo, 1993 gelatin silver print three prints, each 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58- 3/4″), © Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
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11&12-  Hiroshi Sugimoto Tyrrhenian Sea, Mount Polo, 1993 gelatin silver print three prints, each 119.4 x 149.2 cm (47 x 58- 3/4″), © Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on paper mounted on canvas 136.5 x 108 cm (53-3/4″ x 42-1/2″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
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13- Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on paper mounted on canvas 213.4 x 149.9 cm (84 x 59″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on canvas 266.7 x 288.9 cm (105 x 113-3/4″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
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14- Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on canvas 266.7 x 288.9 cm (105 x 113-3/4″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery
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15- Hiroshi Sugimoto English Channel, Weston Cliff, 1994 gelatin silver print 119.4 cm x 149.2 cm (47″ x 58-3/4″)
© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy Pace Gallery
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16- Mark Rothko Untitled, 1969 acrylic on paper mounted to canvas 184.2 x 106.7 cm (72-1/2 x 42″)
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artist Rights Society, New York (ARS) Courtesy Pace Gallery