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2 September 2014
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Simon Schama's, Power of Art

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Full Name:

Mark Rothko (born Marcus Rothkowitz)





Born in Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia) Rothko moved with his family to Portland, Oregon in 1913. His painting education was brief - he moved to New York to study under the artist Max Weber and then struck out on his own.

Rothko is known for his abstract expressionism paintings, but he moved through more traditional styles in his early career, including Surrealist paintings in the 1940s. In 1947 he embarked on the first of his large abstract 'colour-field' paintings, formalising their structure further in the 1950s.

Rothko had huge success with largescale solo shows, but committed suicide in 1970.

Simon Schama on Rothko

"One morning in the spring of 1970, I went into the Tate Gallery and took a wrong, right turn and there they were, lying in wait. No it wasn't love at first site. Rothko had insisted that the lighting be kept almost pretentiously low. It was like going into the cinema, expectation in the dimness.

Something in there was throbbing steadily, pulsing like the inside of a body part, all crimson and purple. I felt I was being pulled through those black lines to some mysterious place in the universe.

Rothko said his paintings begin an unknown adventure into an unknown space. I wasn't sure where that was and whether I wanted to go. I only know I had no choice and that the destination might not exactly be a picnic, but I got it all wrong that morning in 1970. I thought a visit to the Seagram Paintings would be like a trip to the cemetary of abstraction - all dutiful reverence, a dead end.

Everything Rothko did to these paintings - the column-like forms suggested rather than drawn and the loose stainings - were all meant to make the surface ambiguous, porous, perhaps softly penetrable. A space that might be where we came from or where we will end up.

They're not meant to keep us out, but to embrace us; from an artist whose highest compliment was to call you a human being."

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