Black on Grey

Mary Wilkinson

Mark Rothko Untitled (Black on Grey)

Mark Rothko Untitled (Black on Grey)

Rothko’s Black on Grey painting is visible from my back porch at six a.m. on a Wednesday morning. The sky to the north looks ominous but nonetheless beautiful. I remember seeing his painting in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I remember it well because the tiny voice from the tiny tape I carried around suggested Rothko was depressed at the time he painted it. I chuckled at that. I can’t imagine anyone to have conceived such a stunning work to be diagnosed as depressed. After the visit to the museum I carried the painting around in my head. I took it to the beaches of Spain and home to my windswept abode on the edge of the bog and the predominantly grey Atlantic Ocean. On days when I felt discord I thought of the Rothko and felt that I could see the black and the grey skies as only things of beauty rather than something related to death or despair. It worked, because on Wednesday morning, the sky threw itself at me and I returned the favour. I rejoiced in the bleak, unforgiving, forbidding day and urged myself to appreciate the colour or  perceived lack of it.

The week has been like that. Full of unexpected colours when nothing only grey was expected.

I back step. On Tuesday I woke up to realise the closing date for a short story competition was that same day and I cursed how it came upon me so quickly and cursed too my procrastination. I had until midnight to submit but work was also calling me and so I set off with some notion in my head that grew like yeast as I baked for the restaurant and sifted and stirred all my ideas into the flour and powders I used. By two p.m. I was ready to write. I had no idea. I dug out rough drafts of short stories stowed away in the filing cabinet and found one that might work. Editing was crucial. The story had to be 450 words and each word had to count. I worked like a trojan until I finally came up with something I thought I could be proud of. The prize is certainly appealing. It is ten thousand euro. I cannot lie that I imagined myself jetting off to Palm Springs with H, staying in one of those retro motels and sipping Margs by a blue pool. I eventually clicked the submit key. The reply came almost immediately, it was ‘thanks Mary and good luck’! We shall see.

The builder came to fix our ailing chimney stack and I embrace the man. Decent and true and full of goodness and honesty and generosity. How special it is to meet another human being with qualities gone far too rare for me these days. And my son wonders how you can become cynical as you grow old and I tell him to live. And still, I say always look to the sky for answers. They are out there in the clouds and the blacks and the greys. That is what life tells you if you only choose to listen and see. Remember Bilbao I say and how we stood together in that big white room looking at the Black on Grey painting and you must have been only sixteen and I could see how you studied it with an intensity that pleased me. Do that when you doubt. Do that when others fail you and you will find the answers and when you do the world will open up and the black and grey lines will be as valid as any other garish colour somebody might chance to throw at you.

Reprinted from the Red Room Author’s Blog

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