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Mark Rothko (1903-1970)

Aliases: Marcus Rothkowitz

Professions: Painter

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  • l - Mark Rothko , White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)

  • No. 15

  • Untitled (Red, Blue, Orange)

  • Untitled

Mark Rothko Biography

(b. September 25, 1903, Dvinsk, Russia; d. February 25, 1970, New York, New York) American painter. Mark Rothko was one of the major figures of Abstract Expressionism and an important influence on the development of Color Field painting. Born in Russia as Marcus Rothkowitz, Rothko’s family immigrated to the U.S. in 1913 and settled in Portland, Oregon. Here, Rothko began school and in 1921, attended Yale University. In 1923, Rothko left Yale to move to New York City, where he took odd jobs and pursued art. He began to take classes at the Art Students League where he studied under Max Weber. In 1928, Rothko took part in his first group exhibition and was chosen by his instructor Bernard Karfiol to exhibit at the Opportunity Gallery in New York. He had his first solo exhibition in 1933 at the Portland Art Museum and another in New York that same year at the Contemporary Arts Gallery. Beginning in 1929, Rothko taught children at the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, and continued in this position for over twenty years. Working with children influenced Rothko to take a more emotional approach to his subjects. During the early 1930s, Rothko became friends with artist Milton Avery, whose treatment of color and simplified depictions had a strong influence on him; and Adolph Gottlieb, with whom he worked closely and wrote a manifesto during the early 1940s. Rothko was a part of the group of artists named “the Ten” and exhibited with the group eight times between 1935 and 1939. In the late 1940s, Rothko taught at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and also founded a school in New York with some of his contemporaries called the Subjects of the Artist school. Rothko’s mature and most well known style began to develop in the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this period, previous elements of surrealism and mythical imagery disappeared in favor of non-objective compositions, including aligned floating rectangles of various colors. It was also during this time that Rothko became unwilling to explain his work because he wanted the viewer to use their imagination and he feared that his commentary would taint the viewer’s interpretation. In 1958, Rothko received his first commission, a mural for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York, but questioned the setting of a restaurant for his work and the project was never completed. In 1961, The Museum of Modern Art in New York gave Rothko a solo exhibition. Rothko wished for the viewing of his paintings to be an intimate experience; viewed in the way that they were painted, and thus, dictated how they should be displayed in exhibitions. Though his paintings were large in scale, he wanted them to be first encountered close-up, “the pictures are intimate and intense, and are the opposite of what is decorative; and have been painted in a scale of normal living rather than an institutional scale…the first experience is to be within the picture” he said. Rothko was fortunate enough to see the success of his art and fruits of his labor during his lifetime, yet he remained melancholy and depressed. Rothko committed suicide in 1970 at age 67.

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