Peter Gabriel’s “Fourteen Black Paintings” Lyrics Meaning

The titular pieces of art (“Fourteen Black Paintings”) were actually created by a 20th century painter named Mark Rothko (1903-1970). The themes of these paintings have to do with human rights and by extension civil rights (with the latter being a very hot topic during Rothko’s lifetime). And they are situated in a structure called the Rothko Chapel, which is located in Houston, Texas. Peter Gabriel got a look at these pieces some years back while traveling through the United States, and they inspired him enough to write this song.

Mr. Gabriel starts off the track by acknowledging that “from the pain comes the dream”. So the “pain” which serves as the premise of these works is instantly recognized. And that “pain” would be something akin to individuals being deprived their basic rights. Owing to this, logically, “the dream” would be tantamount to overcoming this situation. So then “from the dream comes the vision”. So this same discomfort and subsequent fantasy to be free from it has led to a palpable aspiration to achieve a positive goal. 

Or stated differently, “the vision” would be a foreseeable realization of “the dream”. Then this “vision” is extended onto “the people”. And the defining characteristic of the people is that, collectively, they are a force to be reckoned with. Or put otherwise, they actually have the “power” to implement the aforementioned “vision” or effect the desired “change”. And being that we know, once again, the foundational inspiration behind this song is the human and civil rights’ struggles, then we also know that “the change” Peter Gabriel is desiring is akin to the achievement of equal rights.


So via this song, we can conclude that sympathy for his fellow man is a sentiment close to Gabriel’s heart. For the era this track was released, which was the early 1990s, was not particularly a hot time in terms of human or civil rights violations in the United States – where the “Fourteen Black Paintings” reside – or his homeland of the United Kingdom. However, upon viewing Rothko’s murals, the singer was still compelled to drop a song dealing with – indeed even encouraging – the masses taking a step forward to implement positive and fundamental societal changes.

Lyrics of “Fourteen Black Paintings”

Who wrote “Fourteen Black Paintings”

Peter Gabriel wrote “Fourteen Black Paintings”.

And he also produced the track along with his frequent collaborator, Daniel Lanois.

When did Peter Gabriel release “Fourteen Black Paintings”?

“Fourteen Black Paintings”, which was released on 27 September 1992, is featured on Peter Gabriel’s sixth-studio album, “Us”. And the label that put the song out is Real World Records.

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