"By the middle of the '70s," Rothenberg has said, "I sensed that people were tired of Minimal and Conceptual art. It made sense to paint an image of something you could recognize and feel something about." Having found herself doodling a horse on a bit of canvas in 1973, Rothenberg shortly began a series of full-scale paintings of horses. These works anticipated the powerful return of figurative and subjective content in American and European art of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Rothenberg, however, runs the emotional immediacy of figurative art through the filter of abstraction. In Axes, her working of the paint favors its material presence over its illusionistic or expressive possibilities. The body of the horse is a largely flat white—there is little modeling to give it volume or detail to give it character. It shares that white with the ground around it, which it traverses improbably slantwise, and straight lines cross both body and ground, insisting that they are constituents of the same flat surface. The result is neither wholly representational nor wholly abstract, and reflects the ideas of its time even while it breaks from them: "I was able to stick to the philosophy of the day—keeping the painting flat and anti-illusionist—but I also got to use this big, soft, heavy, strong, powerful form."
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 290.