Friday, October 19, 2012

Rothko, Mark

Red, Orange, Orange on Red
oil on canvas
233 x 204.5 cm (91 3/4 x 80 1/2 in.)
St. Louis Museum of Art, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

"If you are only moved by color relationships, you are missing the point. I am interested in expressing the big emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom." (Rothko)

Rothko created the effect of a hidden light source in this painting by applying many thin washes of pigment that allow some of the colors in the bottom layers to appear through the top layer. For some viewers, the floating fields of saturated colors, ranging from rust red to tangerine orange, evoke the shimmering luminosity of dawn or twilight. Although monumental in scale, this painting is not intended to be overwhelming. Rothko said, "I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous. The reason I paint them, however . . . is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human." To enhance this sense of intimacy, Rothko preferred to exhibit groups of his paintings hung low on the wall in relatively dim light, creating a unified, contemplative environment rather than a room of individual artworks. (St. Louis Museum of Art)

Mark Rothko (1903 - 1970) was a Russian-American painter. He is classified as an abstract expressionist, although he himself rejected this label, and even resisted classification as an "abstract painter". Born in Dvinsk, Russian Empire which is today Latvia, he was the fourth child born to Jacob and Anna Rothkovich. His father was a pharmacist as well as an intellect, who supplied his children with a secular and political as opposed to religious raising. As Russia was a hostile environment for Zionist Jews, Jacob immigrated to the United States with his two older sons in 1910, finally sending for the rest of his family in 1913. They settled in Portland, Oregon, though Jacob died only a few months after the family's arrival, requiring them to earn a living in their new country though they only spoke Hebrew and Russian. Rothko was forced to learn English and go to work when he was very young, resulting in a lingering sense of bitterness over his lost childhood. He graduated early from Lincoln High School, showing more interest in music than visual art. He was awarded a scholarship to Yale University, but soon found the environment at Yale conservative and exclusionary; he left without graduating in 1923.

Painting consumed Rothko's life, and although he did not receive the attention he felt his work deserved in his own lifetime, his fame has increased dramatically in the years following his death. At odds with the more formally rigorous artists among the Abstract Expressionists, Rothko nevertheless explored the compositional potential of color and form on the human psyche. To stand in front of a Rothko is to be in the presence of the pulsing vibrancy of his enormous canvases; it is to feel, if only momentarily, something of the sublime spirituality he relentlessly sought to evoke. Rigidly uncompromising, Rothko refused to bend to the more distasteful aspects of the art world.

Rothko regarded his paintings as living organisms: for him, color was something deeply human and sensuous, but at the same time it served as the gateway to transcendental experience. He also felt an affinity to Monet within the colorist tradition. This is reflected by his method of creating hovering expanses of color, which can be related to the interior space of Monet’s famous water lily paintings. Rothko committed suicide in 1970 in New York.