A Profile of Mark Rothko – Abstract Artist
Marcus Rothkowitz (Mark Rothko) is considered to be one of the most gifted artists of the Abstract Expressionism Movement which emerged following the Second World War. He was associated with the ‘New York School’. Rothko’s abstract art phase saw him shifting from pseudo-primitive and distorted forms to more indistinct forms called multiforms and later to the rectangular colour fields which made him well-known. Rothko’s abstract art is spiritual, emotional, timeless and bereft of object representations. It shows meticulous attention to factors like colour, balance, composition, shape, scale and depth.
Mark Rothko was born a Jew in Dvinsk, Russia on the 25th of September, 1903. In 1913, aged ten, he moved to Portland, Oregon to be with his family who had emigrated there earlier because of the Cossack violence against Jews. Rothko’s academic brilliance won him a scholarship to study in Yale University, where he read ‘Liberal Arts’. However, he dropped out of university in 1923. Two years later, he was in New York, a student of Max Weber at the Art Students League. The year 1933 saw him being given his first ever solo exhibition in Portland at the Museum of Art. This was soon followed by an exhibition in New York; featuring nudes, city scenes, landscapes and portraits.
In 1935 Rothko along with several others artists formed the Whitney Ten Dissenters, a group supporting expressionism and abstraction. One of the contributing factors for the growing prominence of the abstract in Rothko’s artworks was his program with his peers – Newman and Gottlieb, to combine European abstraction and surrealism. His interest in universal symbols and mythology was probably another factor.
‘Slow Swirl at Edge of Sea’, Rothko’s masterpiece was completed in 1945 and showed his new inclination towards abstract art. Many critics interpreted this work to be a meditation on Rothko’s courtship with Mell, his second wife. Rothko claimed that his later abstract art paintings were inspired by ‘Red Room’ – a work by the French artist Matisse.
The year 1946 saw the birth of Rothko’s multiform style. According to Rothko, this abstract art imbibed a certain type of life which he didn’t find in much of the era’s figurative painting. Rothko’s multiform masterpieces included ‘Untitled’ and ‘No.18’.
In 1948 Rothko created an art group called ‘The Subjects of Artists School’ along with Clifford Still, Barnett Newman, and Robert Motherwell. The group had discussions on what constituted an abstract painting. It was in that same year that Rothko came upon the spectacular design of rectangular blocks that were symmetrical and of two or three colours that were contrasting yet complemented each other. Thus emerged Rothko’s mature abstract art style of luminous frontal rectangles seemingly floating on the canvas surface.
Over the course of the following seven years Rothko painted oil paintings only on large canvases in the portrait (Vertical) format. Much of Rothko’s multiform abstract art and early paintings incorporating his signature style show an attraction to bright energetic colours such as yellow and red. The mid 1950’s however saw Rothko using less energetic colours including dark blues and greens. According to many critics this represented the increasing gloom in his private life.
In the middle of the 1960s Mark Rothko worked with the architect Philip Johnson, and designed a chapel (the Rothko chapel) in Houston, when completed the chapel would display many of his paintings. Though the chapel was finished in 1971, Rothko did not live to see it. Following a long period of depression he committed suicide in 1970. His suicide guaranteed him being remembered forever as a tortured artist.