Mark Rothko is one of the important figures in the generation of painters. His work still draws attention to many people around the world. Born in Dvinsk, Russia (in what is now Latvia), Marcus Rothkovich was the fourth child of Jacob Rothkovich, a well to do pharmacist and his wife Anna Rothkovich. As Russia was a hostile environment for Zionist Jews, Jacob immigrated to the United States with his two older sons in 1910, finally sending for the rest of his family in 1913.
They settled in Portland, Oregon. Mark graduated early from Lincoln high school, showing more interest in music, than visual art. He was awarded a scholarship at Yale university but soon found the environment at Yale conservative and exclusionary; he left without graduating in 1923. His first encounter with art was when he visited a friend who was in art class. He saw a picture of a nude model and drew his attention. He moved to New York City where he enrolled in max Weber’s still life and figure drawing classes at the art student’s league, which constituted his only artistic training.
He stated that his style changes were motivated by the growing clarification of his content.”
The progression of the painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity.” He continues saying that “a painter does not paint for students or historians but for human beings, and the reaction of the human terms is the only thing that is really satisfactory to the artist.
”(Breslin186) Rothko’s works saw many abrupt and clearly defined stylistic shifts on subject matter from figurative, landscape, and street scenes to myth and religion, and to multiform which consist of his warm color and dark colors. Rothko’s early works included landscapes of the areas around Portland hills; Rothko produced a number of water colors. Representing the natural landscape around Portland, Untitled work( color plate 4), in which Rothko adopts a vantage point in the hills south of Washington park and the city itself, to look across the Willamette towards the still-rural eastern side of the river.
He used warm colors that gave a viewer a sense of peace. Also in the self-portrait (color plate 7) painting, Rothko is standing out from the brushed brown and yellow background, Rothko appears immovable, by turning his heard one quarter to the right and towards the light. His facial structure conveys definition and force of character. The portrait itself communicates a tension between Rothko’s strength and his vulnerability (Breslin107). Another, early paintings are of subway and the street scene. In the subway scene, He produced a number of images of a New York subway in which windows, and walls serve as structure. He shows the subway. Its walls and railing are represented as flat screens, tracks recede sharply. Figures can be identified by details of dress as commuters, shoppers, or school children, both they are largely attenuated, faceless, and flat.
Rothko’s exterior scenes of modern street scenes, shows the city life that lacks the energy and the openness of nature. In the street scene (color plate 1) a sharply drawn line, defining the edge of public building against the black background for the human figures, splits the work into public and private spaces .The paint shows the classical architecture of the buildings associates it with art (Breslin107). Furthermore, Rothko changed his style to Myth and religion. He completed on a series of paintings that attempt to use mythological subjects preferably from Greek mythology. His turn to archaic myth derived from contemporary political reality. Newman later recalled.” It was impossible at that time to paint the kind of painting that we were doing- flowers, reclining nudes and people playing the cello”(Breslin163). In January 1942, Rothko exhibited the painting that showed a new turn on his work. ” Antigone” was the first Rothko’s new images shown in public.
The paint consist several intermeshed figures seated on a row, rectangular, bench-like box. Quasi-classical heads compose one amalgamated from sitting on top of a row of bodies in its own horizontal register. The center tier of Antigone features a row of dismembered torsos. Between the head and the bodies and two pairs of arms nailed through the hands to the timbers which strongly refer to the crucifixion (Papas). “Antigone” has something to do with Rothko’s feelings about the war. Rothko’s respond to World War II, generally plays an important role in accounts that discuss his search for a universalizing subject matter and imagery to go with it (Pappas). Rothko stated. “The immediate presence of terror, and fear recognition and absence of brutality the natural world as well as the eternal insecurity of life.” Another painting was “The Omen of the Eagle.” Rothko stated.” the picture deals not with the particular anecdote, but rather with the spirit of Myth, which is generic to all myths at all time” (Breslin 166). on the Omen of the Eagle, Rothko equated mythological consciousness with pantheistic unity merging man, bird, and beast.
Rather than drawing on widely known stories as the tragedies of Aeschylus did, combatively confronts its viewers with something real and repressed in themselves. So while criticizing the war as primal irrationality, the Omen of Eagle itself seeks an irrational communicative power directed to at the unconscious (Breslin 168). In 1946, Rothko produced new paintings which directed his art to finding his signature style. These new paintings are known as “Multi-forms” in which he attempted series of bold and severe repudiations, seeking to purge from his work myth, symbol, landscape, figure, drawing of any kind in order to paint in patches of hazy, luminous color (Breslin232). They appear warm, intense colors, their variety of shapes and hue. One of his painting such as Untitled (1948: color plate 13) is built up of multiplicity of glowing, brightly colored, soft edged, translucent, predominantly horizontal, two dimensional forms.
Some are circular; others, ovals or rectangles: but even these geometric forms, bulging and contrasting irregularly, have been organized, and most of the painting’s shapes are unique and amorphous (Breslin 235). Instead of bending the external to express his vision, Rothko lets his inner vision emerge on the canvas, materializing it not in symbolic forms but in expensive patches of color, as if paint itself could speak, could provide a language of deep psyche. “The elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea and observer.” as the example of such obstacles, Rothko gave memory, history, or geometry which are swamps of generalization from which one might pull out parodies of ideas. His color achieved a new luminosity Breslin writes. Rothko said “I think of my pictures as drama: the shapes in the pictures are the performers.” In his paint titled No.16 (the green and red in tangerine) 1956.
He proposed that the tangerine might be read as “the normal, happier side of living” and the dark blue green above as the “black clouds or worries that always hang over us” (weiss257). In this respect, Rothko stated that the large scale of these canvases was intended to contain or envelope the viewer…Not to be “grandiose” “but intimate and human” he wanted his viewer first experience to be within the picture. ”These paintings are intimate and intense; it’s the opposite of what is decorative. It gives the key to the ideal relationship between the viewer and the rest of the picture. In a lecture at the Pratt institute, he told the audience that “small pictures since he renaissance are like novels; large pictures are like dramas in which one participates in a direct way.” On one occasion about this time Rothko recommended a viewing distance of as little as eighteen inches (Weiss 262). Yet even with such clarifications, the public continue to criticize his work.
The two art-journal reviews of Rothko’s 1949 Parsons Exhibit focused on composition, as if formal unity were the central issue. “the unfortunate aspect of the whole showing is that these paintings contains no suggestion of form or design,” Margaret Breuing judged in Art Digest, while in Art News Tomas Hess, after first noting the “strength of composition” supporting Rothko’s went on to criticize “his insistence on making the grand gesture, on building in hue scale.” “The very ambition which went into covering such immense surfaces, the very refusal to exploit the full resources of the oil medium, has resulted in ambiguity of the decoration which can not be decorative”(Breslin 247). Weiss writes that Rothko viewed color as capable of expressing a comparable profusion of moods in painting.” Color was never just color, but a mood in potency, an expressive energy waiting to be deployed in new situations” (Weiss 269). Most critics believe that he is more of a colorist rather than an artist leaving its viewer with nothing. Rothko’s work began to darken dramatically during the late 1950s.dark paintings announce a profound change in the artist’s thinking.
Here he turned to palette of red, maroon, brown, and black. Rothko’s darker works repeat several variations on a maroon that became identified with a dramatic or tragic ambition. For some this wine color has assumed ceremonial and ritualistic associations in our culture (Weiss 269).Rothko wanted to be understood; he wanted to be recognized, to be seen, in the deepest sense. In the chapel project, the darkness of the paintings marks a powerful watershed in Rothko’s thinking. Breslin writes. Dominique de Menil, in her penultimate address at the opening of the Rothko chapel in 1977, described the paintings within as “intimate and timeless” they embrace us without closing us (Weiss 284). their dark surfaces do not stop the gaze….but we can gaze right through these purplish browns, gaze into infinite”(Weiss 274).
In conclusion, Mark Rothko, a prominent figure who moved through many artistic styles such as his early works which consisted with landscape, portrait, street scenes, subways, and myth and religion until reaching his signature motif of soft, rectangular forms floating on a stained field of color. Heavily influenced by mythology and philosophy to create an image so Identifiable that he didn’t need t o sign the paint.
His identity being dispersed throughout the canvases which are filled with not only personal but also marketing imperatives: a recognizable object, a “name” brand, a known value, can more easily be sold. He wanted to have a signature style, unique expressions marking the individuality of the painter, yet characteristic expression marking that individual as recognizable familiar. He continue to work on multi-forms until the end of his life. He died in 1970 at the age of 66. His fame increased dramatically in the years following his death.