The Color of Rothko

This past weekend, I visited the Portland Art Museum for a retrospective of Mark Rothko’s work.  Although born in Russia, his formative years were spent right here in Portland, Oregon.  He attended Lincoln High School, and began his study of art at the Museum Art School, which is now called Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), before going to Yale, and shortly after ending up in New York City.

The 45 paintings show Rothko’s progression from figurative, to abstract surrealism, and finally to the contemplative color fields that we think of when we think “Rothko”.

His painting career spanned 50 years, from the late 1920’s until shortly before his death in 1970, when he ended his own life after a long battle with depression.

Beach Scene, 1927 The Douglas F. Cooley Gallery, Reed College

Subway, 1937 Collection of Christopher Rothko

Iphigenia and the Sea Horizontal Phantasy, 1943 Collection of Kate Rothko Prizel and Ilya Prizel

No. 18, 1946 National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Untitled, 1948 Collection of Kate Rothko Prizel and Ilya Prizel

Detail of above painting - Untitled, 1948

Orange and Red, 1956 Collection of Jon and Mary Shirley

No. 14, 1951 Collection of Kate Rothko Prizel and Ilya Prizel

Untitled, 1969 acrylic on canvas, Collection of Christopher Rothko

When I was an art student, I loved representational and figurative painting.  My favorite artists were, Lucian Freud, Odd Nerdrum,  Alice Neel, Rembrandt, and Velasquez,  but through my work with architectural color, I am much more focused on color relationships and simplified color and shapes.

Rothko’s paintings are much more meaningful to me now.  I love stepping right up to the painting, close enough to fill my whole field of vision, and stare into the painting until I can feel it pulsating.  The power and energy of color comes through in his paintings like no other.  To me, Rothko was not only successful in having the viewer SEE color, but to actually FEEL color.

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