The youngest of four children, Mark Rothko was born in Dvinsk, Russia in 1903 . In 1910, his father,who was a pharmacist, died. Mark was just an eleven year old boy then . A lost childhood left him sour as he was left with no choice but to start working at such a young age. He began to deliver groceries and sold newspapers after school.
Luckily,as he grew up, he was awarded a scholarship to Yale University, but he soon found the environment at Yale conservative and exclusionary and left without graduating soon after. In January 1924, Rothko enrolled at the Art Students League and began taking anatomy courses. He also joined an acting company and although his career in the theater was short-lived, his interest continued.
Rothko’s love of the theater informed his works throughout his life; he painted theatrical scenes, admired many playwrights, and referred to his paintings as “drama”, and his forms as “performers”. His most famous compositions contain multiple soft-edged blocks of colors which seem to float in space called “multi-forms” and yes, nothing else. No other figures at all.
Pictures must be miraculous.– Mark Rothko
Rothko first developed this compositional strategy in 1947. Described as “Color Field painting” —a term that stuck—it is a style characterized by significant open space and an expressive use of color. Rothko was one of its pioneers. “His colored rectangles seemed to dematerialize into pure light….”
These are some of his paintings from the early fifties:
The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer.
Rothko spent the rest of his career exploring the limitless possibilities of layering variously sized and colored rectangles onto fields of color. As the style developed, Rothko’s paintings grew much larger, something the artist believed created “a state of intimacy.” “A large picture is an immediate transaction,” he said. “It takes you into it.
He wanted to remove all obstacles between the painter, the painting and the viewer. His paintings were meant to entirely engulf the viewer and pull the viewer out of the mechanized, commercial society over which artists like Rothko despaired.In his own words:
He was always somewhat of an advocate .In particular he supported artists’ total freedom of expression, which he felt was compromised by the market. This belief often put him at odds with the art world establishment, leading him to publicly respond to critics, and occasionally refuse commissions, sales and exhibitions.
Rothko wrote the manuscript for a book which was to be called The Artist’s Reality. However, it was never published in his lifetime, being hidden away for over fifty years. These writings discuss Rothko’s ideas about Modern art, myth, beauty, the nature of American art, and the challenges of being an artist in his society.
A painting is not a picture of an experience, but is the experience.– Mark Rothko
By 1968, Rothko’s health was in decline from years of severe anxiety and his related drinking and smoking habits. After surviving an aneurism, he continued to smoke and drink despite his doctor’s orders, but he did scale back the size of his canvases and switch from oils to acrylic paints to reduce the strain that his painting process placed on his body.
To visitors he explained that because of his heart condition he was not allowed to lift heavy canvases, and thus he had resorted to working on paper. His paintings got noticeably darker, some people tried to relate that to his mental state of depression, it ultimately culminated in Suicide.