Feeling somewhat compelled and not a little ridiculous, Martin approached a vast canvas. He mentally measured out twelve inches and half as much again, then assumed the suggested viewing distance. The old man was quite correct. From here he could see the paint surfaces had been delicately applied, the edges soft and porous, the quick brush-strokes evident. He noted the old man had not immediately joined him, presumably reluctant to diminish an intensely personal experience.

Martin stared long at the canvas void. It vacuumed up his usual agitation, silenced his mental monologue. This was an art of birth and death – or perhaps the time before birth, after death. It invoked his very earliest memories, before sentience ambushed him: a vast humming space of infinite peace. Time’s relentless, glacial flow seemed to halt. The frenetic stampede of modern life and all its garish manifestations – fast food, soap operas, emails, the underclass, construction sites, football, crowds, traffic and lotteries – all of these slipped from his mind, unwelcome here.

‘Wonderful, isn’t it?’

The old man was at his side again, a thief of wonder.

‘How – how did Rothko know?’

‘Know about what?’ asked the man sharply.

‘About the Hate Machine.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘The world.’

‘Ah,’ said the man. ‘I see. You mean the tragedy of human existence – “the weariness, the fever and the fret”, as it were. The sickness of it all. The war, the crime, the injustice, the sickness and perversion – ‘

‘Well,’ interrupted Martin, ‘how did he know?’

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2 Responses to “Sacrament”

  1. December 08, 2009 at 1:24 pm, Ian D Smith said:

    Fascinating and thought-provoking story. Thank you. Rothko was persecuted as a Jew and then as an artist. No surprise that he took on the Rothko Chapel, where “the universal spiritual” aspect of [his] work would complement the elements of Roman Catholicism”. He saw that “literal Christian belief” was far from an “outworn cultural specific”, but part of the “universal spiritual aspect”. He showed that the “Hate Machine” (nice image for lumpen secularism) shouldn’t persecute Christianity, Islam, Judaism. He was a truly great artist.

  2. January 19, 2010 at 3:12 pm, jim holloway said:

    But the world isn’t just a hate machine; and the numbers “pouring in” are largely balanced by those “pouring out”. Yes, sometimes it feels pretty grim, but other times even the chavs and wanky students can show their humanity.
    I’ll look out for Rothko, though!


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