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 Mark Rothko  (1903 - 1970)

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Lived/Active: New York / Ukraine/Russian Federation      Known for: abstract expressionist painter, early surreal

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from Auction House Records.
Orange, Red, Yellow
© 2001 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz in 1903 in Dvinsk, Russia.  His father was a pharmacist.  As a child he spoke Hebrew and Russian until he was ten years old; in 1913 he and his two sisters, Anna and Sonia, came to Portland, Oregon, where their parents had preceded them.  They wore labels explaining that they did not speak English; he enrolled in Immigrant School. In 1921 he won a scholarship to Yale University; he was one of three immigrant seniors to get into Yale.  He planned on becoming a labor leader. In 1923 he left Yale, moving to New York to work as a bookkeeper for an uncle. Somewhere along the way he disavowed his faith, struggling with a cultural identity developed against a hostile backdrop of anti-Semitism.

In 1925 he began taking life-drawing classes eventually studying at the Art Students League with Max Weber.  He was also much influenced by Milton Avery's simple paintings and by the work of Matisse.  In 1935 he co-founded "The Ten" with Adolf Gottlieb; they were a group of artists who espoused expressionist or emotive styles as opposed to abstract artists whose work was removed from emotional content. In the late 1940s he taught at the California School of Fine Arts and became a significant influence for Abstract Expressionism on the West Coast.

During the 1930s and 1940s he eked a life out of part-time teaching and the WPA artists' work program.  His first marriage to a fellow artist ended in a nervous breakdown for Rothko and divorce.  In 1944 he met his second wife, Mary Alice (Mel) Beistle.  They had two children, a daughter, Kate, and a son, Christopher.  He didn't make a living from his painting until the mid-1960s.  Then everything in his career seemed to flower.

Rothko's works underwent a transition as time went on; they became larger and larger in size and less figurative, brighter and deeper in color, until they became rectangles of color in different configurations.  Rothko became more obsessive about his work: he disliked group shows and usually declined to participate in them; he fussed about the lighting of his paintings and the color of the walls on which they were hung; he insisted that his paintings be hung in groups and not mixed with canvases that were different in color and design.  Unfortunately, he bought some of his pigments in Woolworth's and didn't even know what they were; as a result of this, as well as high levels of light, the paintings and murals faded rapidly.

In spite of these occurrences, Rothko's work was accepted and increased in value considerably after his death. There was a famous legal battle over his estate that lasted from 1971 to 1977.  His children ended up with fewer than one hundred of their father's works.

Rothko killed himself with a razor and pills in 1970.


Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
From the Internet, www.AskART.com
Darkness Into Light by Peter Plagens in Newsweek Magazine, June 1, 1998
Rothko's Legacy: Transcript of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, August 5, 1998
ARTnews magazine, March 1999
World Artists 1950-80 by Claude Marks
Art & Antiques Magazine, April 1994
Rediscovering Rothko by Sheldon Nodelman in Art in America magazine, July 1999
Time magazine, March 3, 1961

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Dvinsk, Russia with the name of Marcus Rothkovich, Mark Rothko became a leading Abstract Expressionist painter, using the rectangle of large-scale canvases for a one-color ground, visible along the edge and through occasional openings, showing three or four horizontal blocks of color with brushed surfaces and fuzzy borders.

He used thinned oil paint in many layers, achieving the effect of watercolor which he had used so often before.  He created simple, flat shapes which, for him, showed a relationship between primitive art and myths cast into working through his own personal experiences.  His work expressed drama and violence, suggesting both serenity and conflict.

As a child, Mark Rothko spoke Hebrew and Russian until he was ten years old, and in 1913, emigrated to Portland, Oregon with his two sisters.  All wore labels explaining they did not speak English, and he enrolled in Immigrant School.  Feeling much isolated, he created his own private world of psychological space, and the exploration of that space became an obsession.

In 1921, Rothko enrolled in Yale University, and by that time was already receiving attention as an artist.  In 1925, he went to New York City where he studied at the Art Students League with Max Weber.  He was much influenced by Milton Avery, who made simple paintings, and also by the work of Pierre Matisse.

In 1935, he along with Adolf Gottlieb, co-founded "The Ten," artists that espoused expressionist or emotive styles as opposed to abstract artists removed from emotional content.

In the late 1940s, he taught at the California School of Fine Arts and became a significant influence for Abstract Expressionism on the West Coast.  He also did mural work including for New York restaurants, the Harvard University Holyoke Center, and a set of fourteen religious panels in the Rothko Chapel for the Texas Medical Center in Houston.

Early in his career, Rothko painted isolated urban figures and then experimented with automatic drawing, a surrealist technique to express personal feelings.  Deeply interested in the collective and individual unconscious, he studied mythology, Freud, and Jung, seeking universal symbols.  By the mid 1940s, horizontal bands appeared in his work, and then he discarded all direct references to nature and worked with simplified shapes, color gradations, and value relationships.  In 1970, he committed suicide.

Source:
Matthew Baigell Dictionary of American Art


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
In October 2004, a book titled The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art was published by Yale University Press.  Edited by the artist's son, Christopher Rothko, who found the manuscript in 1988, it is the only published writing by the artist and is the result of tedious work by the son to create an organized manuscript from pages that were "sloppily typed, with numerous hand-marked additions and deletions" . . .

At the time of his father's death, Christopher Rothko was six years old, and editing the pages became a way of establishing a relationship with a father whom he could barely remember. "It was a fascinating process, In rediscovering the book, I rediscovered my father."


Source:
Phoebe Hoban, 'New Work By Rothko: A Book of Writings', The New York Times Arts section, 10/14/2004

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, P-R):
Born in Dvinsk, Russia, Marcus Rothkowitz (he would begin using the name Mark Rothko in 1940) immigrated to Portland, Oregon, at the age of 10. An excellent student, he enrolled at Yale University, but he dropped out without completing his degree and moved to New York City. During the early 1920s he studied with modernist Max Weber at the Art Students League. Later in the decade, he became friends with Milton Avery, whom he regarded as a mentor.

Throughout the 1930s, Rothko painted figuratively, often producing portraits or moody paintings depicting isolated city dwellers. In 1935, he and friend Adolph Gottlieb co-founded the Ten, a group of artists loosely connected by their expressionistic, emotional styles.

In 1947 Rothko began eliminating all references to the observed world from his paintings, and he stopped relying on the drawn, gestural line as a vehicle of expression. In a series of paintings created between 1947 and 1949, called “multiforms,” Rothko covered surfaces with irregularly shaped patches of vivid color. Despite the absence of recognizable imagery, these multiforms shared with the preceding Surrealist pieces a sense of forms evolving or in flux.

For the balance of his career, Rothko limited his formal concerns to subtle variations of color, texture, and rectangular shape. These large-scale paintings achieved the transcendent universality to which Rothko had long aspired. He preferred to present his work in environments like chapels, where viewers could become wholly absorbed in the experience.

Internationally acclaimed but depressed and physically weak, Mark Rothko committed suicide in 1970.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Mark Rothko is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Abstract Expressionism
Modernism



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