Color Fields of Mark Rothko

Updated: Jan 13

While many of you may be familiar with the iconic murals of Jackson Pollock, there is much less recognition given to the strong yet simplistic pictorial works created by Mark Rothko. They are much easier to indulge in, exhibiting a deep reflection of emotion. When you look at a Mark Rothko, you enter into intuitive space. They are architecturally mapped as an immersive space that pulls out a story as you navigate your way through the layers of the ever fine-tuned colors and powerful space.

In 1903, Mark Rothko was born in the Russian Empire. As tensions were rising and the imperial army was expanding, his family migrated from Daugavpils to Ellis Island in late 1913, just before the Prussian invasion. Once in the US, they later moved across the country into Portland, Oregon. Proving very successful in his studies at Lincoln high school, he received a scholarship to attend Yale. However, after a less than ideal freshmen year, he dropped out. It was later the following year that he found himself working in the garment district of New York, where he began to pursue his lifelong career in the arts. Going on to study at Parsons, then from the Cuban painter Max Weber at the Art Students League, he began to develop. After about 20 years, his work became completely abstract as he began to enter the realm of abstract expressionists of his time like (as mentioned) Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman.

It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that he finally developed into the matured artist he would remain until his last day. He began creating his “color field” paintings on very large canvases – works that were very labor-intensive. He used a variety of techniques to accomplish the breathless works we can admire today. One of Rothko’s largest influences apart from European religious paintings and architecture, was Nietzsche’s book “The Birth of Tragedy” and his idea that art should dramatize the terror and struggles of existence. Rothko felt strongly about this, which is probably why he chose to listen primarily to Mozart while painting. It was not uncommon for him to spend hours (and sometimes days) to evaluate a painting before deciding what to do next. It was a very immersive and personal process for him. Rothko was also known for not selling paintings to people didn’t “accompany” to his work.

His paintings continued to get darker and darker compared to his bright Mattise colors of the early 50’s. He struggled with deep depression most of his life, and it only got worse in his later years, as is visible in his work. On February 25th 1970, Rothko donated nine dark maroon murals the Tete Museum just hours before slitting his wrists, which created a pool of blood similar to the size of one of his paintings.

He left behind over 190 color field paintings, which are displayed around the world for him to be remembered by – the man who could create an architectural room through large murals on the wall.