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Mark Rothko

“I'm interested in expressing the big emotions—
tragedy, ecstasy, doom." – Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko is considered one of the foremost figures Abstract Expressionism. He believed painting was an emotional and spiritual experience, for both himself and its viewers. By the late 1940s, he reached a format which critics named the “multiform.” It would become his signature style. Painting two or three soft-edged, luminescent rectangles, stacked weightlessly on top of one another, floating horizontally against a ground, he sought to transport the viewer to new realms of emotion and perception. Although his paintings may initially appear simplistic and repetitive, their composition, visual effects and emotional impact are complex. For Rothko, “a painting is not a picture of an experience, it is an experience.” One viewer’s personal experience of a Rothko painting cannot duplicate that of another.

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Rothko Timeline

  • Born Marcus Rothkowitz in Dvinsk, Russia in 1903 to Jewish parents
  • Family relocated to Portland, Oregon, all arriving by 1913 but his father died the following year
  • Moved to New York in 1923 after dropping out of Yale University
  • Member of the Art Students League between 1926 to 1930, where he took art classes
  • Starting in 1932, series of joint summer vacations with Adolph Gottlieb and his wife, Esther, at Cape Ann, Massahuchusetts
  • 1933 First solo museum exhibition at Portland Art Museum, drawings and watercolours
  • In 1946, first major museum solo show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art “Oils and Watercolors by Mark Rothko”
  • The late 1940s marked the beginning of his color field paintings or “multiforms”, works for which he is known. In these works he used the technique of soak-staining, applying thinned paint onto the canvas to create abstract fields of color, horizontal cloud-like rectangles, which pervade the picture space with their lyrical presence. He begins to number paintings to avoid influencing viewer interpretation
  • From 1958 to 1969, he worked on three major commissions: monumental canvases for the Four Seasons Restaurant and Seagram Building, both in New York; murals for the Holyoke Center, Harvard University; and canvases for the chapel at the Institute of Religion and Human Development, Houston, known worldwide as “The Rothko Chapel.” The dark and somber works he created for the chapel are thought by some to foreshadow the artist’s suicide in 1970.
  • 1961 major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (forty-eight paintings), traveled to London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Basel and Rome

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