Marcus Rothkowitz, better known as Mark Rothko, was born in Divinsk, Russia to a Jewish family at the beginning of the XX century, in 1903. The young ten-year-old boy and his family moved to Portland, Oregon, and his father, Jacob Rothkowitz passed away not long after their arrival. He was a bright student and earned a scholarship to Yale with his efforts, but dropped out during the second year of his studies. He moved to New York, where he decided to dedicate his career to making art. Rothko was Max Weber’s student and learned about modern art movements like Cubism and German Expressionism. During the 1930s, the artist’s mains inspirations came from the paintings of Henri Matisse and Milton Avery, but only changed to his artistic name - the one we know him by today - in 1940.
By the mid-1940s, Rothko was experimenting with other styles, like Surrealism inspired by works done by Max Ernst and Joan Miró. The Surrealists worked with a narrative of dreams and the unconscious mind, and Rothko along with his friend Adolph Gottlieb would read and discuss the subjects based on Frederick Nietzsche and Carl Jung, linking their lines of thought to art. The group of artists that were involved in their circle found it irresponsible and irrelevant to pursue artistic tradition. This somewhat radical approach to art is understandable when taken into account the historical context of the rise of Fascism and the Second World War that was about to unfold.
In June of 1943, Rothko and Gottlieb wrote to the New York Times stating they didn’t believe in “good painting about nothing” and that they valued the “simple expression of complex thought.” The Russian painter intended to answer the big questions of life with his artistic production, and thus his work became more simplified. During this period, the use of color in painting was always based and linked to a narrative context, something Rothko was able to deconstruct. By experimenting with thick layers of paint on canvas, creating areas of misty colors, and producing large-scale pieces, Rothko eventually found the style he became famous for in 1950 and continued to explore it until his death in 1970.
This form made it possible for Rothko to deal with, in his words, “human emotion; with the human drama, as much as I can possibly experience it.” With the elimination of figurative forms, he aimed to remove any obstacle that could exist between the idea and the painter, as well as the idea and the observer – thus resulting in an experience of overwhelming sensorial stimulations. Rothko’s approach to simplicity, stillness, and monumentality has lead people to have an almost religious experience while in front of his masterpieces, proving that Rothko was one of the most important painters of post-modern art.