Kate tells me The Rothko Chapel receives meditators all the time, some of whom bring square, sequined pillows and kneel stationed, as though before a Station of the Cross, before his giant, violet blue masterpieces. A couple is bent before Rothko’s northwest panel when we arrive. We are dressed for dinner and pillowless, mentally and physically not prepared to kneel. Kate is better, having not been well. These euphemisms: better, not well, are common among mental patients, which I consider both of us to be, though neither is at the moment. She is no doubt thinking, and rightfully so, if she is thinking of this at all, that I have a hell of a nerve discussing her case, discussing her as a case.
As an artist, she is deeply moved by the process, the grandeur, and the feeling of the Rothko violet panels, which fill the space as contemplation fills the mind, emptying the space, filling the space, emptying. Kate’s face has the glow of a Chinese fire-eater I remember embroidered on the back of a jacket of someone I loved long ago. I go back there as I go to the violet blue paint; each serves as a medium for making life into art and art into memory. In memory, she lightly scratches my back for what seems hours. I live for the instant life loses its bearings in a private passion or a public, physical work of art.
Kate and I move about the chapel trying not to disturb meditators lost beyond thought. Kate and I are restless, lost in thought. I know I shouldn’t speak for her. I have discovered little out about Kate, despite knowing that she makes miniature, handmade books at twenty-hour stretches, often without eating or sleeping, and does not mind being alone. She says she gets depressed, but that being around people often brings on the depression. I told her I am sick of, or from, being alone; I can’t remember which. She shrugged.
Inside the Rothko Chapel, a violet middle panel weeps; on each side, night falls on a darker midnight blue panel of the watery beginning of time.
Rothko claimed not to have been an expressionist but “was interested only in expressing basic human emotions… The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them.” Kate is not sure of me, I feel this. Yet she lets me lie on her mat when I visit her.
The Chapel commission writes, “Rothko’s output reveals darkness as a fundamental note in his repertoire, a reminder that an involvement in light presupposes an acquaintance with shadow…” The young couple on their knees look “blissful,” a feeling engendered how, Mr. Rothko, weeping your way through the making of these gigantic rectangles and knowing others weep with you?
Better to see the chapel in natural light, we were told. Yet, here it was dusk, and we were very happy. In my case, tears of Happiness: that euphemism for not being unhappy. Or, Happiness: a spirited experience of great release, a cry, an emission, an admission, of what kind? Admission into what? Bliss, Mr. Rothko, a kiss in the dark? A sense of the broken whole? A fuck you addressed to death? The feeling of something beginning with no end? Making a painting, a triptych, a whole octagonal room of floating, violet, giant pages, a handmade book, a life, without stopping?