Despite illness and a heavy drink problem, the last two years of Rothko's life were his most prolific and astonishing for the extraordinary meditative quality of the work produced. From 1968, the year Green, Blue, Green on Blue was painted, the glowing colours of the earlier paintings were replaced by deeper and quieter hues. As a result, forms which had formely appeared to float with an ethereal lightness became denser, more solid, and now literally hummed with the intensity of a spiritual aura.
During his last years Rothko chose to work mainly with acrylic on paper in order to achieve this desired effect. Since the 1940s, he had used paper not only as studies for larger canvases, but to produce finished and fully conceived paintings in their own right. The works on paper that he completed in 1968 are considered, however, among the best of his career.
In Green, Blue, Green on Blue, Rothko balances a darker and heavier mass of saturated green above a small rectangle below. Both planes appear to be pulling at each other but are stabilised by a thin blue band, acting like a magnetic strip between two larger forces. The luminosity of this middle blue, pulsating against the lighter blue of the background, feels as though it would burst out of the composition if it was not for the emerald forms pressing upon it. The blue background meanwhile locks the three bands together in a single plane evoking a sense of peace and harmony despite the tension.
The floating geometric forms arranged on the picture plane were considered by Rothko to be actual objects and not abstract. He believed that everything had its own reality: "My new area of colour are things, I put them on the surface. They do not run to the edge, they stop before the edge... Abstract art never interested me; I have always painted realistically. My present paintings are realistic. When I thought symbols were the best means of conveying my meaning I used them. When I felt figures were, I used them." (in: Mark Rothko, Tate Gallery, London 1987, p.73)
Viewing works such as Green, Blue, Green on Blue is deemed a spiritual and contemplative experience for the spectator, much like looking at a monochrome by Yves Klein or Lucio Fontana. Just as Gothic and Renaissance icons were meant to inspire the beholder through their formal perfection and as reminders of an order beyond man and nature, Green, Blue, Green on Blue conveys a similar sublime and eternal peace.