Markus Yakovlevich Rothko was an American painter and a member of the New York School, a group of painters that created a new collective movement during the 1940s. Although considered a preeminent Abstract Expressionist, Rothko refused to accept the label.
After a difficult Russian Jewish childhood, Mark Rothko and his family moved to Portland, Oregon, where he learned English and attended high school. He dropped out of Yale after two years and moved to New York during the booming Modernist movement. He immediately immersed himself in the art world. Despite large commissions, awards, and numerous exhibits, Rothko felt that he didn’t receive the attention he deserved during his lifetime. Since his death, his fame has dramatically increased.
Mark Rothko’s work is infused with emotion and passion from his Russian-Jewish heritage, and it also draws heavily on his interest in Greek mythology and Nietzschean philosophy. He quickly abandoned figurative portraiture and landscapes for Abstract Expressionism, finding that they limited his ability to express his emotions. As he moved away from realistic images and figures, Rothko moved into symbolic and Surrealist imagery, as evinced in his work The Omen of the Eagle. Rothko’s paintings developed a signature motif in the 1950s with soft, rectangular forms amid a stained field of color. He painted enormous canvases with thin layers of color to give the impression of a shallow pictorial space. Orange and Tanis is just one example of Rothko’s color contrasts and expressive modulations. He reduced the number of rectangles to just two or three per painting and aligned them vertically. Light Red Over Black(1957), is an example of his darkening color forms in his later years. Rothko insisted that his blocks of color contained meaning, themes, and emotions just as strong as less abstract art, but he refused to explain the meaning behind any of his pictures. Eventually, he stopped giving them conventional titles at all, simply using numbers or colors to identify the works. He didn’t want the titles to paralyze the viewer’s imagination. White Center is a large pink form, medium orange form, and small white form that evokes a happy, vibrant feeling. From then on, he maintained his signature format, using a range of colors and tones to express what seemed to be unlimited atmospheres and moods.
- He used darker colors in his later years because of a commission that he never completed.
- Rothko lost his Yale scholarship after his freshman year.
- When his health declined, his doctor asked Rothko to paint with smaller canvases.