Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Rothko baby blanket

For the past few months, as I worked on knitting a sweater, I spent quite a bit of time considering my next yarn-related project. (One has a lot of free thinking time when one's hands are busy with a regular and uncomplicated knitting and purling sequence.) I decided to move on to baby blankets and, more to the point, came to the decision that it would be a great idea to make a series of blankets in the style of Mark Rothko paintings.

When I explained this at work, someone asked "who's Rothko?" and someone else astutely answered, "He's one of those modern artists who throws up a big block of color on a canvas and leaves you thinking, 'Do people really pay money for this?'"

I used to feel the same way, but through the influence of a Rothko-loving friend and a few years of thought, I've mellowed and perhaps even come to like Rothko's style. If nothing else, he seems particularly suited, among artists, to have his work converted into baby blanket form. After some time spent looking over his various works, I decided that my first blanket would be based on this:

1) It's square, which means I can crochet in the round. I like to crochet in the round.
2) The shapes are extremely symmetrical, which means minimal bother with moving one color into the collapsed side of another.
3) I had enough of both colors on hand, so I could start immediately.

After I began, and had gone through most of my first skein of dusky plum cotton yarn, I did discover a couple of cons as well.

1) Rothko made almost no other square paintings, so while my blanket will be based on a Rothko, it will not be the most iconic of Rothkos.
2) This particular painting was one of four made for commission for the Four Seasons dining room in NYC in the late 1950's, a group known collectively as the Seagram Murals. Rothko's goal with the paintings was, according to a contemporary article in Harper's Magazine, to "ruin the appetite of every son of a b**** who ever eats in that room." Charming.

Still, S---'s mystified reaction to that quote tells me that artistic sentiments have shifted a little in this country since the late 1950's. In any case, I have a feeling that these well-to-do socialites would have lost their appetites moreso because they would spend all of lunch trying to figure out how this qualified as art, rather than because it was inherently ugly. I suspect that the blanket form of the design will not lead to any lost appetites, particularly not in this day and age.

Something New on the Internet?!

Through my online explorations, I discovered something truly startling. If Google search results are to be believed, my plan to make a Rothko baby blanket is... wait for it... a relatively original idea! I have found exactly one other Rothko blanket, available for viewing here. I will point out that that one is adult-sized, and according to the information I have found, it hangs in an art gallery and is not for general use.

I found a few other entertaining riffs on Rothko, though -

Christopher Niemann, author of the Abstract City blog at the New York Times, considered a pixelated Rothko tile wall in his bathroom when trying to choose a new and exciting look.

The Salt blog at NPR has a story called "Mark Rice-ko," about a chef who dyed rice with natural food dyes and then made Rothkos out of her colored ingredients. I have a feeling that the article should be about the process of dyeing rice, as the Rothko angle feels like as much of a "why bother?" as some people might consider the process of putting squares of color on canvas in the first place. The story really falls apart at the end, when the chef makes coconut rice out of her "paintings," and with all the colors mixed together the result is extremely ugly brownish green rice that "tastes the same."

My favorite find so far is definitely these Rothko cookies, which look fantastic and would be fun to eat. They would certainly be a tasty thing to snack on while I'm crocheting my baby blanket.

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