Page Turner: A history of the world in blood and other fluids

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The Independent Online

What do you think of when you look at a painting by Mark Rothko? What do you make of his mysterious portals, horizons, distances, depths and black skies? For Charles Darwent, writing last week in the IoS about the new show at Tate Modern, his rusted hues brought congealed blood inescapably to mind. I found the emotional effect overwhelming, as I moved from the red canvases to the blacks, then to the astonishing "Brown on Gray" works, like Monet's Waterlilies for a dead planet. Shortly after painting them, Rothko slit his wrists in his studio.

As Darwent commented, "spiritual" is not quite the point, or at least begging the question. But another art critic has an altogether more earthy response. The first sentence in the first story in Sue Hubbard's collection, Rothko's Red and Other Stories (Salt £12.99) is a marmelade-dropper. "'It's like your c***,' he'd whispered in her ear in front of the magenta Rothko. 'All that velvety redness. I know it so well; every fold and crevice...'"

Blimey! I wouldn't have expected a writer looking at these sombre late works to come over all Judith Kranz about them. A poet as well as an art critic, Hubbard has a neat turn of phrase, though I think that the startling image, "she had lain with her head on his thigh, stoking his long pubic hair" is simply a typo. (Long pubic hair, though? He sounds awful.)

I was grimly amused to see, in the press notes for the Rothko show: "1969 December: Rothko holds a party in his studio to present his new dark paintings for the first time." Wow, that must have been a blast! Fortunately my week in parties has been more cheery. Twiggy launched A Guide to Looking and Feeling Fabulous Over 40 (Michael Joseph £20) with a gaggle of M&S models and Francesco Da Mosto, who seemingly knew no one but was constantly accosted by smitten fans. I managed to ask veteran photographer Barry Lategan whether he was Justin de Villeneuve. Oh, and Twiggy's legs really are like twigs.

Then it was off to St James for the launch of Martin Rowson's new book F*** – oh, to hell with this – Fuck! The Human Odyssey (Cape £16.99), a history of the world in cartoons, each with a one-word speech bubble. (You can guess what word.) Rowson's reds (not to mention his yellows and browns) evoke and usually depict blood, vomit, piss and shit. Sue Hubbard was not available for comment.