Rothko Expressions

MarkRothko,-1949One of my guilty pleasures involves the enjoyment of abstract expressionist paintings.  No, I don’t have the wall space nor the financial fortune to collect them.  But there are the coffee table books and the Internet.  I especially like to view a few of the paintings while listening to the music of Tangerine Dream or some other ambient artist.

Many amateur art critics fail to understand the dynamics and style of abstract expressionist works.  Jackson Pollock’s paintings come under special criticism.  His paintings consist of a large canvas laid horizontally on the floor while paint was dripped or hurled across it.

American abstract expressionism is the largest school of the genre.  There are strong influences of stark German Expressionism, the Bauhaus movement, futurism and Cubism. It has been accused of having nihilistic roots.  However, it’s best to think of anarchism, rebellion, and idiosyncratism.

A major offshoot of abstract expressionism is “Color Field”. These paintings are the mostMarkRothko-saffron-1957 ambient and environmental of the genre.  In fact, many of the painters of Color Field works deny the abstract expressionist label.  A Color Field painting creates its own emotional impact in a room due to its stark, simple coloration and very large size.  When they are displayed in large public areas, like airports or museums, they are often created as coordinating, integral groups.  They work to alter the viewer’s emotional state and mood. They also act as catalysts to trigger creativity and imagination when they are thoughtfully contemplated.

My favorite Color Field paintings were created by Mark Rothko.  His stunning, blatant primitively simple, color blocks bring out a serene energy from my inner depths whenever I have the chance to view one of his paintings.

MarkRothko-ausstellungsplakatRothko was born Marcus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz; September 25, 1903 in the town Dvinsk in the Russian Empire, now Latvia. The child was raised in an atmosphere of oppression and scapegoating.  Latvian Jews were the scapegoats blamed for the harsh difficulties in Russia.  The young Marcus attended Cheder and studied the Talmud. The Rothkowitz family emigrated from Russia in defiance of the Imperial Russian Army draft. The last of the family members arrived in Portland, Oregon in the winter of 1913.  The father’s death, a few months later, left the family with no support. The mother found work as a cashier and youngMarcus worked at one of his uncle’s warehouses.

In public school, Marcus was an excellent student.  He eventually won a scholarship to Yale University.  He didn’t fit into the elitist atmosphere at the school. Marcus described the faculty and student body as racist.

In 1923, Marcus enrolled at the New York School of Design. There he encountered some influential peers and fellow artists.  Arshile Gorky was likely Rothko’s first introduction to American avant-garde.  Marcus also took classes at the Art Students League where he studied under Max Weber. The melding of Weber’s and Rothkowitz’s expressions brought about Rothkowitz’s opinion that art is best used as a tool for the emotions and religiosity.


In 1935, Rothko had his first one man show at the Contemporary Arts Gallery. Among the 15 oil paintings and other drawings and portraits, the oils attracted critical attention. Later that year, Marcus became one of “The Ten” whose mission was to protest the literalism of American art.

After many years of procrastination, Rothko obtained American citizenship in February of 1938.  He was motivated by fears of the emerging Nazi movement across Europe. He feared that he might be deported from the United States back to Latvia. It was in 1940 that he shortened his name from Marcus Rothkowitz to Mark Rothko.

By 1946, Rothko’s so-called “multiform” paintings came into being.  He described the blurred out blocks of colors as possessing their own life forces.  He enjoyed the breath of life and possibilities more enriching than most of the figural paintings of his generation.  One of Rothko’s influences was the work of Clyfford Still.  Still’s work was, in turn, inspired by the stark landscapes of Still’s home state of North Dakota.

Rothko was diagnosed with a mild aortic aneurysm in 1968. The artist continued his tobacco and alcohol consumption and lived an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle. He did follow his doctor’s advice to paint much smaller paintings.  His poor health was compounded by a feeling of estrangement in his relationship with his wife.  The couple separated on New Years Day of 1969.  After a year of single life, Rothko committed suicide on February 25, 1970.

Mark Rothko’s importance to modern art is still immense. Last year in May of 2012, Rothko’s “Orange Red Yellow”, painted in 1961, was sold by Christie’s Auction for $86,900,000. This set a new nominal-value record for a postwar painting at public auction.



The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this Rothko painting called “Blue”.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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1 Response to Rothko Expressions

  1. segmation says:

    I love Rothko! Thanks for sharing this!

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