Mark Rothko – An Abstract Expressionist With Complex Intrigues

Marcus Rothkowitz or Mark Rothko, as he was better known, was born on September 25, 1903, in Daugavpils, Latvia. He was one of the faces of the “Abstract Expressionist Movement” sharing stage with the likes of de Kooning, Pollock, Guston, Kline, and Newman. Belonging to a Jewish family, the Russian community never accepted Mark Rothko. Therefore, he left for the U.S. in 1913, where he led a simple life, until his father passed away in 1914. To support his family, he worked at his uncle’s warehouse, distributed newspapers to the employees. Rothko was a bright student at school and he completed his studies with honors from Lincoln High School in Portland, in June 1921. He enrolled for studies in Liberal Arts, from the Yale University, during the period 1921 – 1923, but dropped out without acquiring a degree.

Mark Rothko was largely a self-taught, highly appreciated artist to emerge from the New York art scene. He co-founded an organization of like-minded artists, famous as “The Ten,” in 1935. He also established an art school in New York, named “Subjects of The Artist,” in 1948. The early works of Mark Rothko mostly included ‘Expressionist’ portraits and urban landscapes. Later, however, he moved towards more ‘Surreal’ themes, under the influence of the works of Arshille Gorky. In 1947, he started painting his now famous, “color-field pieces,” characterized by simple bright or dark colors to convey his emotions. By 1950s, Mark Rothko started getting recognition as the master of “Abstract Expressionism.”

Most of Rothko’s works were unnamed or had forgettable names, such as “Black, Maroons and White (1958),” “Four Red (1957),” & “No. 6 (Violet, Green and Red).” In 1967, the artist joined hands with Johnson to make 14 related works on a church in Houston, Texas, which was posthumously renamed after him. For most part of his career, Mark taught in several universities and colleges, including Center Academy in Brooklyn, from 1929 to 1952, the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1947 and again in 1949, Brooklyn College from 1951 to 1954, the University of Colorado in 1955, and Tulane University in the year 1956. In addition, Mark Rothko exhibited his work regularly in 1940s and 1950s. He was eventually allowed in Venice Biennale in 1958 & the Museum of Modern Art in the New York City in 1961.

Ironically, Mark Rothko had always maintained that he is not an abstractionist and is not interested in the relationship of color or forms. For him, his paintings displayed basic human emotions like anger, tragedy, loss, etc. Despite his professional success, Mark Rothko could not be considered a happy man. He had two failed marriages and throughout his life, Rothko had to struggle with penury. His heavy thinking also led him towards depression and alcoholism and eventually, he committed suicide on February 25, 1970, by cutting his wrists in his New York studio.