While Dan Rice slapped brushloads of rabbitskin glue onto the cotton duck canvas, further loads would slop down, warm and pungent, on his head and shoulders. Mark Rothko teetered on a ladder above, heavy as a bear and notoriously cackhanded, rushing his handiwork so that the two of them could cover the entire stretch of fabric before the size cooled. Moving on to another canvas almost nine feet high, the workers might swap places, with Rice getting to rain down on Rothko. The residues that ran off them as they showered afterwards would have been tinted maroon: as a personal variant on standard procedure, Rothko liked to feed pigments into the pan on the hot plate, as his sheets of glue dissolved. That way, the stretched canvas would have a character – a complexion, at least – from the very outset, even before the two of them applied similarly coloured resinous primers to support the upper layers of brushwork. A complexion, a disposition, a bias; this object that Rice had hammered together for him, out of wood and coarse cloth bought at an awnings supplier on the Bowery, would bristle with an inbuilt material resistance.

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