Mark Rothko, Untitled (Seagram Mural Sketch), 1959, oil and mixed media on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. © 1998 by Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko

The Darker Side of Mark Rothko

More than 50 years after Russian-born Mark Rothko was commissioned to create mural canvases for the nondenominational Rothko Chapel, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston is set to display the largest exhibition of his works since the late 90’s. Not too long before the chapel opened its doors, its artist took his life in a heartbreaking tradition seen by many artists like himself; self-annalistic and continually misunderstood (overdose of pills and razor blade to the wrists).

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1951, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. © 1998 by Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko
Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1951, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. © 1998 by Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko

Depressing? So was the last period of his work, marked by his twenty-five painting series: Black on Gray, a desolation of canvases choked by a white border, leaving the viewer acutely aware of Rothko’s preoccupation with death and tragedy. Though his life ended quite abruptly, the man was never short of words or ideas, never afraid to go against the grain or stand strong next to his beliefs: “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.” Short of calling most critics and art-goers idiots, he didn’t shy away from being explicit about the meaning and scope of his art, believing the viewer should experience the dramatic emotion when looking at his works [1].

Mark Rothko with No. 7, 1960, photograph attributed to Regina Bogat, reproduced courtesy of The Estate of Mark Rothko.
Mark Rothko with No. 7, 1960, photograph attributed to Regina Bogat, reproduced courtesy of The Estate of Mark Rothko.

However, the Houston Museum boasts that its exhibition “Mark Rothko: A Retrospective” will include over 60 paintings representing the abstract expressionist’s career arc, “highlighting milestones in the development of his signature style” [2]. Though Rothko struggled with the commercial success of his works and felt that they did not receive the attention they deserved, I think he would have felt some sublime, deep sense of satisfaction, knowing his viewers will experience the full range of his artistic expression in their entirety and all at once.

Fan of darker themes? Rothko’s work was highly influenced by William Turner, a man dedicated to the bare essentials. However, if you’re into a more leisurely, upbeat read, then you should peruse Landscapes by Emile Michel, a testament to Rothko’s early figurative work and search for spirituality.

Marianne Manzler

[1] http://www.pbs.org/wnet/powerofart/rotbios.php

[2] http://www.mfah.org/exhibitions/mark-rothko-retrospective/

One thought on “The Darker Side of Mark Rothko

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s