Mark Rothko (1903-1970) is considered as one of the most important artists of the 20th century. His large abstract paintings with colour blocks, so typical for Rothko’s classical style, are auctioned for tens of millions of dollars.
More than 20 years (until his suicide in 1970), Rothko painted rectangular blocks in the most vivid of colours but even so in black. How did this extreme reduction of imagery came to be? How did he become an abstract painter?
What i enjoyed tremendously in the current exhibition ‘Mark Rothko’ in Den Haag (The Netherlands) is the attempt to answer these questions. A lot of attention is dedicated to the early figurative work and the evolution to his later work.
His move from a naturalistic to a surrealistic style in the early 40’s is influenced by his interest in myths, psychoanalysis and the writings of Nietzsche. This stylistic move coincided also with major changes in his private life: after living as a Russian in the States for 25 years he was naturalised and he changed his name from Rothkowitz to Rothko. He divorced his first wife Edith Sachar, struggled with a depression and stopped painting for some time to work on his essay ‘The Artist’s Reality’.
His adaptation of surrealism to his first abstract style, the so-called multiforms, occurred around the mid 40’s. His friendship with Clyfford Still seems to have played an important role in this evolution.
The multiforms shown in the exhibition in Den Haag are absolutely gorgeous and completely mesmerising. A soup of slowly moving forms with blurred lines between figure and background. Abstraction is boiling.
In 1950 Rothko starts to develop his signature style with rectangular, hazy colour fields on monochrome portrait formats. Rothko is no longer stirring the soup.
All pictures are scans from the catalogue ‘Mark Rothko’ accompanying the exhibition in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag from 20 Sep 2014 till 1 Mar 2015.