Painted in 1958, when the artist was at the height of his artistic and critical achievements, Mark Rothko’s No. 10 represents the pinnacle of his alchemical prowess. Using the most basic of artistic materials—canvas, oil and pigment—Rothko is able to create a painting that appears to glow with a supranatural luminescence, the result of a surface that fizzles with painterly energy. By 1958 the vibrancy of his paintings had become subdued, and an austere and ominous palette had come to the fore, beginning what is regarded by many as one of the most significant periods in his art.
In No. 10, the richness and sheer variety of Rothko’s color is most evident in the thin sliver of painterly activity that occurs towards in the center of the canvas. Here, in this intensively worked area, the artist reveals an extraordinary array of subtle, almost indistinguishable passages of reds, yellows, pinks, umbers and ochers that constantly shift under the human gaze. The tension that exists on the surface of this and many other Rothko paintings was the result of his long and deliberative process. Across the expansive surface of the canvas, Rothko stages a multiplicity of events where edge and ground interact; hues are assimilated and contrasted; and textures are opposed and blended. Its optical effects elicit an emotional response that resonates with Rothko's ambition to create a total experience for the viewer, where tactility is emotional and opticality is empathic.