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  • Mark Rothko

    No.10-Mark Rothko


    This was the first Rothko painting I saw in person in New York at The MoMA. Apprehensive as to whether my expectations were to be outdone by the real thing in front of me, I was not left disappointed by its visually pleasurable experience. The thin oil painting mixed with egg-based media achieves a luminosity of pigments with a rich variety in contrast of blocks of colour. The inseparable colour and structure lays within the translucency of the colour washes with drips of paint falling vertically down the horizontally laid rectangles.

    Mark Rothko was one of the most important American painters of our time. His abstract nature associated with abstract expressionism derived from his interest in displaying human emotion. His signature style of a colour plain with two or three rectangles with an un-distinct line allowing the viewers eye to constantly tiptoe from one plain to another avoiding an optical break in contrasting colour like Riopelle (Ref; Image 6). Rothko often applied a number of layers of thin paint to abolish the evidence of the process in order to visually surround oneself with colour, not paint.
    Rothko frames the work of his paintings with colour and controls to level of abstraction and absorption of colour onto the foundation of his paintings. The rounded softened rectangles are distinct and solid colours. The yellow colour field is the largest and most central to the canvas, with a pale green tone of white at the bottom and a fine line at the top. Beneath this is a royal blue which acts as a boarder to the painting also. The colours softly and subtly merge into one another with contrasting tones of Rothko’s signature style. The thin layers of oil paint drip over each other with subtle under tones of white and red dancing behind the huge yellow square. The eye shifts from one colour plain to another engrossing oneself in a harmony of vibrant tones eliminating all sense and evidence of Rothko’s process.

    Rothko stated that his colour is merely an instrument for him. Through going through several periods of depression, he would often display his own emotion through darker or lighter colours depending upon his mood. The series of paintings in Rothko’s mature work often aid time for contemplation of the simplicity of colour and its grand effect of vision and creation. Rothko aimed to present the same religious experience as when he had painted them. The message is not only to be moved by the relationship of the colours. Rothko often posted signs next to his work for the viewer to move further towards his work to be totally engrossed in the colour as opposed to the instinctive reaction of the viewer looking at a large canvas for its time.

    "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." – Mark Rothko (Ross, 1990)
    Rothko simplified his work over the years to reduce his colours to four, three and two. The elimination of complexity allows celebration for the colours to speak for themselves. Rothko’s social revolutionary ideas formed a connection between the painted forms and the viewer whereby Rothko would encourage the viewer to stand closer to the work in order to be totally immersed by the colour stains on the canvas. The colours and tones of the paintings nourished a variety of human emotions creating an atmospheric mood towards the viewer.

    Rothko wanted people to view his work with an open mind. He didn’t want the viewer to come visit his exhibitions with pre conceived ideas about what feeling they might witness whilst looking at his colour fields of paint. To Rothko, a darker painting may fulfill the same level of happiness as ‘orange and yellow’.

    Colour field painting is a style of abstract painting, which emerged in the 1940s, and 50s. The stained un-primed canvases, which Mark Rothko worked on, were part of the first examples that Greenberg referred to as colour field painting despite Rothko himself refusing to adhere to any conformed ‘label’. Due to Rothko’s series of lows, it could be suggested that the social impact he had on society indicated a relationship between him expressing relief to others who suffered the same mental illness he was enduring.


    At the time that The MoMA first acquired the painting in 1952, it was so radical for its time that one of the trustee members of the museum resigned in protest to its display. Rothko’s interpretation on abstraction was one that didn’t attempt to represent an accurate depiction of any visual reality but instead held emphasis on the use of colour shape and form to achieve its effect on the viewer. He adopted and maintained the revolutionary idea of colour field painting, withdrawing from yet again the notion of normality in painting in order to shock the viewer in a totally new spiritual experience of colour.

    Check out The MoMA Website for info on Rothko- No.10, 1950 & a huge collection of artists and current exhibitions! 

    http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A5047&page_number=12&template_id=1&sort_order=1




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    Meet The Author

    -Sophie Gowling-

    -Art&Design student in the North East of England-

    -Aspiring fine artist & lover of creativity-

    -Contact me at sophiegowling@hotmail.co.uk -