There is a darkened room at the TATE Modern, on the second or third floor that is home to a series of Rothko paintings. It’s been on my mind since I last came to London three years ago, and was one of the first things I made time for when I landed.
Coming in from the bright light and bustle of the main gallery takes a moment as your eyes adjust to the dim. The canvases are substantial, bathed in soft streams of light from above. With Rothko, a postcard or picture online doesn’t come close to how they feel. It's only in the flesh that you can sense the depth and beauty of his work. Only in the dark that the panels are illuminated. The way the colours bleed into each other, the way they permeate the space. I spent ages in there, breathing them in, colour to my lungs. The ambiguity of shade reminding me how we change, how one thing becomes another, softly, gently, till the part and the whole are one.
People are quiet in this room, they feel the weight of the colours. There are nine paintings to take in, to feel at each side of you. They are blood red and deep bruises of purple, muddy and dark rust, all of them layered and shifting. They bleed, ebb into each other on the canvas and in to the room too. They are all rectangles or variations; some sit side by side as lungs, others stretch across, pulsing. In the dance between colour and light their texture seems ephemeral, but their presence is alive. I know that Rothko wanted them to feel oppressive, but to me they are beautifully rich. Visceral.
They are the darkened heart of this gallery.