Happy Birthday Mark Rothko! The contemporary artist would have been 109 today, and so today I’ve decided to feature his art- and I’m surprised I haven’t already. He is one of my favorite artists.
I know a lot of people don’t appreciate many modern artists- especially Rothko. “It’s just colors” they say (!!!?#$%?!?) and I absolutely CRINGE when someone feels the need to throw out the “My 6 year old could do that” UMmmmm…NO THEY CAN’T!!!!!! Don’t get me wrong. I think there are plenty of artistic children out there. But I don’t see their work hanging on the walls of the MFA for a reason.
The typical artist plaque at a museum reads: Mark Rothko 1903-1970. And that is true, Marcus Rothkowitz was born in Russia in 1903, and committed suicide in 1970. But that is just the short of it. In those 67 years Rothko was one of the most influential American artists, and one of the leaders of the Abstract Expressionist movement.
Rothko and his family emigrated to Portland, Oregon in 1913. He was one of three immigrants to enroll in Yale the year he started, but later dropped out and began working odd jobs in New York. It was during this time that he began his life as an artist. Rothko’s early works would be barely recognizable to fans of his later masterpieces, but it is easy to see the foundations of his signature style.
At around 1950 Rothko was a member of “the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors.” He was attempting to push the group to work only in abstract styles- but they rejected the idea as too extreme and Rothko left. He soon joined the New York School- which also included Jackson Pollack. It was at this time he began solidifying his signature style. Rothko began working only in oil, on large canvases, in vertical format.
While many people applaud Rothko for his use of color and scale- he felt his paintings emphasized spiritual themes. I won’t be able to sum it up as well as the artist did himself:
“What I find amazing … is how a painting which is two rectangles of different colors can somehow prompt thousands upon thousands of words on the human condition, Marxist dialectics, and social construction.”
“I’m not an abstractionist. I’m not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.”
Rothko’s passion for the spiritual experience of his paintings soon led to the development of the Rothko Chapel, a place of pilgrimage for those seeking artful reflection. The design of the chapel was based on Roman Catholic architecture (although it is non-denominational), is in the shape of a Greek cross and has no windows. Philip Johnson was the original architect for the project but he soon walked off the job and Rothko continued working with Howard Barnstone and then Eugene Aubry. The chapel features 14 works by Rothko- all very dark and somber- almost completely black with slight changes in tone. It was probably a red flag that the artist was sinking into a deeper depression- and rather tragically, Rothko never saw the completed Chapel and never installed the paintings. He committed suicide as the project was coming to a close.
So, are you a fan of Rothko? Have you seen one in person? How did it make you feel? I can say that on my trip to SFMOMA the Rothko was one of my favorite pieces and the grandeur and emotion is something that cannot be felt by looking at a computer screen- it is easy to understand why the artist is greatly misunderstood.