Mark on September 25, 1903, Marcus Rothkowitz was
Mark Rothko1903-1970In a small Russian city of Dvinsk, on September 25, 1903, Marcus Rothkowitz was born. He was of Russian Jewish descent. In 1913 when Mark was 10 years old, he and his family immigrated to Portland, Oregon. His father died of cancer about seven months after the family arrived in America. Mark and his siblings went to work to help support the family. Marcus delivered groceries and sold newspapers after school. In 1921 he attended Yale University where he was considering a degree in engineering or law. He was unsettled and rebellious and ended up dropping out of Yale, moving to New York and living a poor painter’s life. He lived in cold-water flats and run-down neighbourhoods during the Depression and WWII. Mark would often offer his paintings to the city’s museums but they were not interested in his work as they only wanted European art. His first marriage resulted in divorce and he remarried in 1945 to a young woman named Mell and as a result Mark came to be known as one of a distinctly American group of Abstract Expressionist artists. It was in the late 1940’s that he embraced luminous colours and rectangular forms that would eventually become his trademark. Through this style of painting, he was able to create different moods and effects using variations of colour and proportion. Rothko painted colour in thin, layered washes that dissolve into each other and create a very subtle coloration for the rest of the painting. And in a short time frame, he rapidly went from rags to riches. Some of Mark’s canvases were monumental in size which was intended to be viewed close up and this would give the observer a feeling of being consumed by them and the sharing of emotion. Mark never wanted his work to be thought of as beautiful, only as moving and awe-inspiring. It is believed that Rothko turned down what would have been his most lucrative commission because his work would be used for display only. He was quoted as saying that he wanted to express “basic human emotions – tragedy ecstasy, doom….The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.” He was known to have spent hours sitting in front of a blank canvass in quiet thought before he began to paint. As the years passed, the colours in his paintings darkened as his health and marriage deteriorated. In despair and pressured by his dealer to sell more paintings, he committed suicide. Mark Rothko had over 800 paintings in his personal possession which became the center of an extended legal battle after his death.CritiqueMark Rothko was considered an Abstract Expressionist artist that developed his painting style in New York during the 1940’s & 1950’s. Rather than including recognizable objects in his work, he discovered that by using a few bars and panes and rectangular frames of strong colour blurry-edged and set in simple arrangement, he could stir in the viewer a very powerful empathetic and emotional response. His paintings are designed simple with a strong visual catch. As you stare at the canvas and take in the layers of paint, the areas seem to get bigger and smaller. They may come to you or sink away. The shapes may look positive (the bars) and then negative (the slots). Mark used his paintings to deliver emotions to his viewers. The paintings are completely abstract and the purpose of his art is to create expression and emotion.Black on maroon was one of a series of three paintings that Rothko was commissioned to do for a restaurant in New York. Upon completion of the series, he decided that the paintings were too sombre to be hung in an upscale eating establishment. His idea to create this series of work came from the Laurentian Library in Florence when he was visiting Michelangelo’s walls in the staircase room. Mark said that the “Black on Maroon painting was painted to make his viewers feel like they are trapped in a room where all the windows and doors are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the wall.” (Quoted in Breslin,2012, p.400)There is a spiritual dimension to Mark Rothko’s paintings. He painted with a sense of movement that could be felt. Whether it was the colours he chooses or the formation of shapes within, each of his viewers could each interpret a vision of going on a personal journey. That was the experience he wanted everyone to visualize.