Power of Art – Rothko
A BBC documentary about the American abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko. Born Marcus Rothkowitz (September 25, 1903 – February 25, 1970), was a Russian-born American painter. He is classified as an abstract expressionist, although he himself rejected this label, and even resisted classification as an “abstract painter”. Mark Rothko biography follows the videos.
For more info on this artist: Wikipedia Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko in his West 53rd Street studio, c. 1953, photograph by Henry Elkan, courtesy Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Rudi Blesh Papers.
One of the preeminent artists of his generation, Mark Rothko is closely identified with the New York School, a circle of painters that emerged during the 1940s as a new collective voice in American art. During a career that spanned five decades, he created a new and impassioned form of abstract painting.
Rothko’s work is characterized by rigorous attention to formal elements such as color, shape, balance, depth, composition, and scale; yet, he refused to consider his paintings solely in these terms. He explained: It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing.
Family portrait taken in Dvinsk. From the left: Albert and Sonia Rothkowitz, a first cousin, and Marcus and Moise Rothkowitz, c. 1912, courtesy Kenneth Rabin.
Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Dvinsk, Russia (today Daugavpils, Latvia), on September 25, 1903. He was the fourth child of Jacob Rothkowitz, a pharmacist (b. 1859), and Anna Goldin Rothkowitz (b. 1870), who had married in 1886. Rothko and his family immigrated to the United States when he was ten years old, and settled in Portland, Oregon.
Rothko attended Yale University in 1921, where he studied English, French, European history, elementary mathematics, physics, biology, economics, the history of philosophy, and general psychology. His initial intention was to become an engineer or an attorney. Rothko gave up his studies in the fall of 1923 and moved to New York City.
Myth & Symbols
Mark Rothko, The Omen of the Eagle,1942, National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., 1986.43.107
During the 1940s Rothko’s imagery became increasingly symbolic. In the social climate of anxiety that dominated the late 1930s and the years of World War II, images from everyday life–however unnaturalistic–began to appear somewhat outmoded. If art were to express the tragedy of the human condition, Rothko felt, new subjects and a new idiom had to be found. He said, “It was with the utmost reluctance that I found the figure could not serve my purposes….But a time came when none of us could use the figure without mutilating it.”
Mark Rothko, Untitled,1948, Collection of Kate Rothko Prizel
In their manifesto in the New York Times Rothko and Gottlieb had written: “We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.” By 1947 Rothko had virtually eliminated all elements of surrealism or mythic imagery from his works, and nonobjective compositions of indeterminate shapes emerged.
The Classic Paintings
Mark Rothko, Untitled,1949, National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.
Rothko largely abandoned conventional titles in 1947, sometimes resorting to numbers or colors in order to distinguish one work from another. The artist also now resisted explaining the meaning of his work. “Silence is so accurate,” he said, fearing that words would only paralyze the viewer’s mind and imagination.
Mark Rothko, Untitled (Seagram Mural sketch), 1959 , National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.
Rothko’s work began to darken dramatically during the late 1950s. This development is related to his work on a mural commission for the Four Seasons restaurant, located in the Seagram Building in New York City. Here Rothko turned to a palette of red, maroon, brown, and black. The artist eventually withdrew from this project, due to misgivings about the restaurant as a proper setting for his work. He had, however, already produced a number of studies and finished canvases, two of which are included in the present installation. In the Seagram panels, Rothko changed his motif from a closed to an open form, suggesting a threshold or portal. This element may have been related to the architectural setting for which these works were intended.