Mark Rothko (Magill Book Reviews)
Mark Rothko, who was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Russia and transplanted to the very foreign environment of Portland, Oregon just short of his tenth birthday, suffered all his life from a sense of displacement. What is more, he used his alienation as fuel for his creativity.
Rothko did not find what we now think of as his characteristic style and technique until he was forty-six years old. By 1945, however, his style had begun to change from a surrealistic, representational one to the mature one we associate with him: two or three stacked rectangles painted in luminescent colors and finished with soft edges.
Rothko was tragically divided throughout his career in his attitude towards success. On one hand, he relished the steady rise of his stock in the art market, manifested in the ever greater prices he and his dealers could charge for his productions. On the other hand, he despised the commercialism surrounding their display and sale. Above all things, he feared that increased public exposure would reveal his deficiencies.
At the height of his renown, Rothko achieved a kind of apotheosis when the wealthy de Menil family commissioned him to paint a set of murals for a chapel in Houston that was built, more or less, to his specifications. Rothko never lived to see them installed; in 1970, suffering from clinical depression and the aftereffects of an aneurysm, separated from his family and living alone in his New York...
(The entire section is 359 words.)
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Mark Rothko (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Mark Rothko, who was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Russia and transplanted to the very foreign environment of Portland, Oregon, just before his tenth birthday, suffered all his life from a sense of displacement. What is more, he used his alienation as fuel for his creativity. As James E. B. Breslin notes, even after Rothko was successful, he sought out self- denial as a spur to art and was comfortable only when he could adopt the pose of an individual festering with indignation toward the world.
Rothko did not find what is now thought of as his characteristic style and technique until he was forty-six years old. He was generally slow finding his way in life, a tendency that Breslin (and sometimes Rothko himself) attributes to Rothko’s more natural inclination toward music and verbal communication. Leaving Portland for Yale University as a promising scholarship student, Rothko lasted only two years; he was put off by the elitism and anti-Semitism he found in New Haven, Connecticut. Emigrating in the early 1920’s to New York, where he struggled to become a painter, he first labored as a commercial artist, illustrating The Graphic Bible (1928) for Lewis Browne, a rabbi turned popular writer. When Browne failed to pay Rothko all the money and credit the artist believed he was due, Rothko sued Browne, with disastrous results: Rothko not only lost his suit for damages but had to pay all the court costs, thus putting himself heavily into...
(The entire section is 1674 words.)