Summer Christmas is a southern hemisphere event. No bundling up to build snowmen. Rather, Australians strip down to as little as is legal and hop into the sea. Not noble firs, but barbecue's alight to grill prawns and Moreten Bay bugs. Choirs sing carols of silent and holy nights alongside those of green gullies, cool streams and brown paddocks. Although you'd think that sun, sand and surf would not make for a white Christmas, I awoke this year to the Australian equivalent. An overcast sky, mist, and humidity diffused the intense light of dawn into a singular seascape. It made me think of Rothko paintings, especially "Untitled 1, 1969." Some years ago I heard an art critic summarise Rothko's work as follows:
I've always thought that such an oceanside morning likely inspired the timeless transcendence of this painting. It seems the Pace Gallery in London had the same idea, juxtaposing Rothko's work with Hiroshi Sugimoto's photos in an exhibition, "Dark Paintings and Seascapes." So too, apropos Christmas, Rothko's work aspired to the religious beyond religion. This is a trick theologians have been keen to emulate, and the trend goes back to romantics such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, who wrote about our "sense and taste for the infinite" in his On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers. In any case, my ghosts of Christmas past haunt me here, if only to remind me that there are many ways to celebrate the beauty and mystery of the season.