Modern Art - Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko began painting in 1925. By 1947 he had begun to work in his mature style consisting of large, floating color shapes. The loose undefined edges of Rothko's paintings gave them both a sense of movement and a tangible depth. Over the next few years these shapes were refined and simplified to the point where they consisted of generally large color rectangles floating on a color ground.

Rothko used oil paint washed on with considerable tonal variation. His paintings have a constant cloudlike, visual shifting. In Green, Red on Orange of 1951, the dominant earth colors, red-browns of varying densities combined with a central strip of yellow ocher, are suspended on a ground of light but intense blue, apparent around the edges and in a horizontal strip below the central yellow.

By the mid-century, Rothko, like many contemporary artists, was painting on a huge scale. This offered the viewer the experience of enclosing, encompassing color. Rothko's paintings were designed to absorb and engulf the viewer in a total color experience.

"I paint very large picures. I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous. The reason I paint them, however - I think it applies to other painters I know - is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn't something you command." -- Mark Rothko