A Solitary Journey between You and the Universe

The rothko Chapel and he Broken ObeliskCredit: Ed UthmanThe modern world offers much in the way of glitz, excitement and sensory overload. Losing yourself within that environment is easy and can be complete. Finding an oasis of quiet and solitude is one way to find yourself again. The city of Houston, Texas offers at least one such spectacular setting, the Rothko Chapel, where the contemplative soul can ponder the wonders of themselves and their place in the universe.



The Chapel

Rothko Chapel InteriorLocated in the artsy section of town known as Montrose, the chapel was founded and endowed by the estimable patrons of the arts, Dominique and John de Menil. The original plans for the chapel were conceived by the influential artist, Mark Rothko, in concert with the equally famous architect, Philip Johnson.

Completed in 1971, the chapel, Rothko’s paintings and its famous courtyard sculpture, Broken Obelisk, have achieved worldwide renown. While the structure often functions as a chapel and meeting place and has even hosted some important forums, most of its time is devoted to the meditations of its visitors.



The Artist

Rothko - Self PortraitCredit: PochecoMark Rothko rose to prominence in the mid-1930s with a series oil paintings, drawings and aquarelles. Though most usually classified as an abstract expressionist, Mr. Rothko resisted the label and all other intellectualizations of his work. He preferred likening his work to that “which is only the child producing a mimicry of himself.” He was always searching for himself in his work.

As he matured, Mr. Rothko’s work devolved from portraits, mythological subjects and other renderings into rectangular fields of color. Critics are divided on whether his final pieces, displayed at the Chapel, are the sublime culmination of his artistic journey or the absolute destruction of it. In either case, the paintings, were the final artistic statements created by Mr. Rothko.



The Paintings

The artwork in the chapel consists of three tryptychs and five additional paintings arranged around a central area with light from a single, overhead cupola. The paintings are quite large and are essentially monochromes with colors varying from deep brown to almost pure black. The effect is quite astounding although the viewer must bring something of themselves to the table to experience the full effect.

Mark Rothko spent the last six years of his life perfecting both the Chapel and the paintings intended for it. He even recreated the intended lighting for the chapel in his New York studio. Interestingly, Mr. Rothko applied almost none of the paint to the paintings preferring to let his assistants perform that task. Perhaps, this act was a foreshadowing of his growing impatience with the practical and his fascination with the spiritual and the transcendent.



The Journey

The Black Hole of DiscoveryCredit: NASAThere are two main schools of thought on how to best appreciate the Rothko Chapel. One espouses a hermetic journey where one simply explores their own mind. The other requires an awakening to the universe by allowing the paintings to subsume their personality. In either case, the journey is best taken by oneself. It is not really a place for couples or groups unless they are merely there for the guided tour. True reflection takes place alone or only in the company of the universe.


The Rothko Chapel:

  • 3900 Yupon @ Sul Ross, Houston, TX, 77006
  • 10am – 6pm, Every day of the year (except during public programs and private services)


For other great things to do in Houston, check out, 5 Places that I Love to Visit in Houston