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Mark Rothko, No. 14, 1951, c. 1949-1951, oil on canvas, 56-1/2 x 65" (143.5 x 165.1 cm) © 2019 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Mark Rothko

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b. 1903, Dvinsk, Russia
d. 1970, New York

Mark Rothko, a pioneer of the New York School, is one of the most significant and influential artists of the twentieth century, predominantly recognized for his mesmerizing Color-field paintings of immense scale.

Among Rothko’s artistic philosophies, he held that painting was a deeply psychological and spiritual experience through which basic human emotions could be communicated.

By the end of the 1920s, Rothko had participated in his first group exhibition at Opportunity Galleries, New York (1928), and began weekly drawing sessions with Milton Avery and Adolph Gottlieb. Rothko supported his practice during this time by teaching children at the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, a part-time position that he held from 1929 to 1952. Although Avery’s artistic influence was indelible, Rothko’s interaction with children also proved significant to his practice and further inspired him to simplify his mode of expression. He included a selection of his students’ work in his first one-person exhibition, held at the Museum of Art in Portland, Oregon (1933). In 1935 Rothko co-founded the independent art group "The Ten," which included Gottlieb, Louis Harris, and Ilya Bolotowsky among its members.

The decade of the 1940s represented a sea change in Rothko’s artistic style. Deriving inspiration from the European Surrealists and Jungian theory of the collective unconscious, Rothko pivoted from figuration to biomorphic and totemic imagery in myth-based works. These paintings, which occupy a position between Surrealism, abstraction, and automatism, were revealed in a seminal solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery, Art of This Century (1945). Delving further into abstraction, his paintings flourished throughout the remainder of 1940s, leading to innovations that set the stage for his ensuing Color-field paintings (1949–70), devoting the remainder of his practice to this method.

Rothko’s first major retrospective, covering works from 1945 to 1960, opened at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and traveled to London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Basel, and Rome, before closing in Paris (1961–63). The Spirit of Myth, Early Paintings From the 1930s and 1940s traveled to twenty-five locations across the United States, opening at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa, and closing at the Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock (1990–98).

At the height of his career, Rothko received his most prominent commission from John and Dominique de Menil in 1964. Asked to produce murals for a non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas, Rothko created a suite of fourteen dark palette paintings for the site, which, in their meditative quality, enact a total environment. Known as the Rothko Chapel, the building was posthumously dedicated to the artist upon its inauguration in 1971.

Rothko’s stylistic explorations resulted in a proliferation of works on paper and canvas, with layered transparencies of vibrant pigments and earth tones culminating in luminous and ethereal soft-edged compositions. His approach to painting emphasized an experimental engagement with process in order to fully articulate a universal expression.

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Mark Rothko, Untitled {Multiform}, 1948, oil on canvas, 88-7/8 x 65" (225.7 x 165.1 cm) © 2019 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969, acrylic on canvas, 81" x 93" (205.7 cm x 236.2 cm) © 2019 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York