Marcus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz September 25, 1903 – February 25, 1970)
I recently saw an exhibit on Mark Rothko at the Arkansas Art Center the other day. One of the many privileges of volunteering at a local art center for which, I really enjoy. I have been volunteering at the AAC since 2008 to keep in the loop of local artists and for the great exhibits at the museum and also, hoping to work in a Museum someday.
There are a lot of paintings to talk about by Rothko, but I am only going to mention the ones I saw on my visit to the Museum this past week at AAC. First, a little history about the artist background, Mark Rothko was born in a city in Russia named Latvia. He was a Latvia Jewish descent. His family immigrated to the United States of America in 1913 through Ellis Island. His name changed when he got older due to him being afraid that the USA would send him back to Russia to be executed for being a Jew. His name changed to Mark Rothko at that point. Rothko was a very well educated man that went to Yale, but didn’t receive his diploma or acknowledgement from Yale until after he was a successful painter. Rothko did attend the Art Students League of New York in 1923, and his mentors were Arshile Gorky, Max Weber, and Milton Avery. Rothko was influenced by German Expressionism (Awesome!-me too!) and this is when he would create a mixture of Surrealism, Cubism, and Abstraction in his paintings. Rothko throughout his life had dealt with depression and trying times when eventually he killed himself in his studio in 1970 in New York City.
Painting: “Sea Fantasy” 1946. (See Attachment) Rothko was into dreams, Greek mythology, and at the time Sigmund Freud was the in thing- the unconscious mind. This painting looks very similar to Arshile Gorky or Salvador Deli with the floating weird shapes of what seems to be body parts against a dull in color, open back drop. When viewing this piece I felt torn apart, yet the pieces are connected by the straight lines that seem to float between the pieces. It reminds me of war or starvation of some sort. But, as you view this painting you do see in the background the placement of two, maybe three blocks or rectangles of raw sienna or orca yellow on top. In the middle, it’s a lighter color, rectangle of raw sienna, etc. and then the bottom half is a dull gray color. Do you see it? I didn’t recognize it either until I heard someone talking about it in the museum and sure enough; it’s in almost all of his earlier work in the 1940’s. The back ground was layered in a transparent color in rectangles while the images were laid on top of it. His images were of the unconscious mind, a spiritual turmoil of Jesus crucifixion to Greek mythology.
Painting: “No.9” 1948. Color palette is astounding with reds, oranges, pinks, whites, and then blues. This painting is a good example of his well known color field painting techniques on canvas. Now, you see that the image is not even recognizable; the images have become forms in space. Yes, abstract art at its best. However, Rothko did not like being called an Abstract Expressionist as in Jackson Pollock, or even concerned himself a Surrealist painter. Rothko wanted to be recognized as an American Artist and that’s it! However, he continually and tirelessly wanted his paintings to show emotions or feelings from the painting itself. Rothko wanted the painting to speak for itself. Sounds like Jackson Pollock, don’t you think? As I viewed this painting, I got the feeling that I was in a crowd and that the colors of reds were warnings ahead, yet I felt at ease because of the forms in front of me where there to protect me from harm. I am sure everyone that views this painting will feel the same or different depending what they feel and see. I must say I was attracted to the different colors of red.
Paintings: “No. 8 and No. 18” 1949. These two paintings are rectangle in shapes and the paint is very transparent or almost scrapped off. I enjoyed No. 8 more than No. 18 because of the colors in No. 8. I heard that you have to view his paintings 18 inches away from them and be engulfed in the feeling of the painting. In which, it is easy to do because of the paintings are huge in size. Therefore, I did just that on No. 8. While viewing the painting, I felt warmth, passion, and with the yellow/white on top of painting I felt that it was escape from this passion or a brighter side of this passion I was feeling. The white lines that appear on the left, kind of confused me for it made me feel isolated yet, the break in the lines made it feel the overflowing of passion with the bright orange/red color that takes up most of the painting. No. 18 painting was a little more different, not so vibrant of color. No.18 was more soothing on the eyes with its dark green, dark purple and black/blue rectangle that takes up most of the painting. Underneath these rectangles is a dull yellow color/s for the back ground. The rectangle shapes are then topped off with a bright orange/red color line. Well, this one was hard at first, but I felt earth colors, or like lying on your belly on a patch of grass and looking up at the black void of a sky. It was for sure, an earthly feeling. Can you imagine that the bright sun (the yellow color) as the background and the rectangles are blocking your view to see what’s behind the blocks or within them?
Maybe Rothko was right in saying, “Less is more”. He wanted his paintings to be a universal language that everyone could relate to or be a part of. The forms within the paintings became large voids of color, sometimes stacked on top of each other but, the color combinations immediately gave off feelings. Even the way the oil paint was smeared or wiped off or even deluded to make the painting feel ancient or worn down.
Well, what do you think? What do you feel? Besides his paintings looking like something you can do yourself, do you see what he was trying to do as a painter? Why yes, as a painter, I know the feeling of having a painting to speak for itself. It seems the paintings make more sense after knowing the artists back ground first. We should view paintings before knowing the artist or even better just knowing the style of painting from that particular artist.
Exercise: Stare at one these paintings (mentioned above) for about 15 minutes and see if you feel anything? Try first things that jump into to your mind while your eyes focus and travel on certain parts of the painting and what does that shape or color make you feel? or Does it just make you feel….RED?