June 28, 2009

The Art of Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko (1903 – 1970) was originally born in Russia. His family emigrated to the United States in 1913, were he eventually became an Abstract Expressionist. His emotionally resonant use of color led him to be categorized as a Color Field painter which was an abstract style characterized by its use of large expenses of solid color. Many Color Field paintings were intended to create transcendental feelings of awe and wonder or a heightened state of consciousness on the part of the viewer.


(Rothko, Mark. No. 301. [Red & Blue over Red] c. 1959.
Oil & acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angles, California, US.)

In the 1930s, Rothko painted in an Expressionist manner, but in the early 1940s, like many of his fellow Abstract Expressionists, he adopted a Surrealist style, drawing upon the myths of antiquity and using calligraphic, biomorphic imagery. He began to develop the distinctive style for which he is best known – featuring blocks of color – in the late 1940s.


(Rothko, Mark. No. 13. c. 1958.
Oil & acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, US.)

Rothko said his work was about “the basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom” and the huge size of many of his paintings seems to overwhelm the viewer and often evokes a feeling of isolation. By the end of the 1950s, his work had earned him international acclaim. Despite this, he became increasingly depressed, and eventually took his own life in 1970.


(Rothko, Mark. Earth and Green. c. 1955.
Oil & acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas.
Museum of Ludwig, Cologne, Germany.)

To create his famous Abstract Expressionist images, Rothko worked on untreated, unprimed canvases. He applied repeated thin layers of pigmentation with light and then used fast brush strokes so that the underlying layers would show through. The result was a painting of great transparency and luminosity.


(Rothko, Mark. No. 20. c. 1957.
Oil & acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australia.)

Rothko generally painted his rectangles with soft, uneven edges. As a result the shapes seem to be gently hovering or floating over the canvas – even when the rectangle is of a cool recessive color. His works are so simple yet to look at them in person, stirs such deep emotions and his work is much appreciated here!

Enjoy :)

Reference: King, R. Art. New York: Dk Publishing, 2008.

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