Thursday, 10 December 2009
Born Marcus Rothkowitz in Divinksk, Russia on the 25th of September 1903, he emigrated to America at the age of 13, settling in Portland, Oregan, his fathers untimely death a year later shook him badly. In 1921 he won a scholarship to Yale University and commenced his studies. Eventually settling in New York exploring mythological subjects and iconography and begins to get known for his abstract surrealism. He married Mary Alice Beaistle in 1945.
What I know about his earlier life is that he was initially drawn to writing and acting and had varied interests ranging from music and literature and was drawn to surrealism and radical causes.He was a member of the IWW the union for all workers and, attended meetings of the IWW and with other anarchists like Bill Haywood and Emma Goldman, where he developed strong oratorical skills he would later use in defence of Surrealism. With the onset of the Russian Revolution, Rothko organised debates about it in an atmosphere of extreme repression and wished to become a union organiser.
Later in life with the death of the Russian Revolution, the destruction of the Spanish Revolution by Communists and Fascists, and the rise of the Nazis Rothko became disillusioned as to whether there was any hope for social change. But he claimed "I am still an anarchist"!
He became a painter when he joined Yale university, and changed his name to the Westernised Mark Rothko in 1938. He explored many forms of art " artfully scribbling" and becoming drawn to ancient myths which he saw as eternal symbols.
It was not until 1950 when he was in his forties did he develop a more mature form, that he would continue to practice until his suicide on the 25th February 1970 after years of depression and alcohol abuse. He explored colours in all its depths and hues using deep colours laid out on huge canvasses ,developing a new language of feeling, exploring freedom and movement.
Rothko was both fortified by his powerful Jewish heritage, a heritage which is one of the oldest, most tenacious and demanding to be found anywhere - one embodying a collective superego and an ethic of cosmic proportion.
I went to see an exhibition of his work in the Tate last year and standing before his huge, mute abstract canvasses was drawn into an experience that required no real knowledge of the aeshetics of art - to something quite transcendent, it was pretty powerful stuff!
Rothkos painting technique was of painting canvasses with layers and layers of diluted color, offering a timeless time without end. He himself often used the phrase " the weight of emotions ". As a lover of music he sought to make the same emotional equivalents that he experienced while listening.
He wrote in 1947
" I think of my pictures as dramas, the presentation of this drama in the familiar world was never possible, unless everyday acts belonged to a ritual accepted as referring to a transcendent realm. Even the archaic artist who had an uncanny virtuosity, found it necessary to create a group of intermediaries, monsters, hybrids, gods and demi-gods. The difference is that, since the archaic artist was living in a more practical society than ours, the urgency of transcendent experience was understood and given an official status....
with us the disguise must be complete. The familiar identity of things has to be pulverized in order to destroy the finite associations with our society increasingly enshrouds every aspect of our environment.
Without monsters and gods, art cannot enact our dramas: art's most profound moments express this frustration."
Rothko himself did not actually adhere to any particular religious faith, but to me his work seems very mystical. What follows are some notes, statements and ideas Rothko committed to paper throughout his life revealing his underlying talent as a writer.
The Romantics Were Prompted to seek exotic subjects and travel to far-of places. They failed to
realize that,though the transcendental must involve the strange and unfamiliar, not everything strange or unfamiliar is transcendental.
The unfriendliness of society is difficult for the artist to accept. Yet this very hostility can act as a lever for true liberation. Freed from a false sense of security and community, the artist can abandon his plastic bank-book, just as he has abandoned other forms of security. Both the sense of community and of security depend on the familiar. Free of them, transcendental experiences become possible.
I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in pictures are the performers. They have been created from the need for a group of actors who are able to move dramatically without embarrassment and execute gestures without shame.
Neither the action nor the actors can be anticipated, or described in advance. They begin as an unknown adventure in an unknown space. It is at the moment of completion that in a flash of recognition, they are seen to have the quantity and function which was intended. Ideas and plans that existed in the mind at the start were simply the doorway through which one left the world in which they occur.
The great Cubist pictures thus transcend and belie the implications of the Cubist program.
The most important tool the artist fashions through constant practice is faith in his ability to produce miracles when they are needed. Pictures must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended. He is an outsider. The picture must be for him, as for anyone experiencing it later, a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need.
They have no direct association with any visible experience, but in them one recognizes the principle and passion of organisms.The presentation of this drama in the familiar world was never possible, unless everyday acts belonged to a ritual accepted as referring to a transcendent realm.
Even the archaic artist, who had an uncanny virtuosity, found it necessary to create a group of intermediaries, monsters, hybrids, gods and demi-gods. The difference is that, since the archaic artist was living in a more practical society than ours, the urgency for transcendent experience was understood, and given an official status.As a consequence, the human figure and other elements from the familiar world could be combined with, or participate as a a whole in the enactment of the excesses which characterize this improbable hierarchy. With us the disguise must be complete. The familiar identity of things has to be pulverized in order to destroy the finite associations with which our society increasingly enshrouds every aspect of our environment.
Without monsters and gods, art cannot enact our dramas: art's most profound moments express this frustration. When they were abandoned as untenable superstitions, art sank into melancholy. It became fond of the dark, and enveloped its objects in the nostalgic intimations of a half-lit world. For me the great achievements of the centuries in which the artist accepted the probable and familiar as his subjects were the pictures of the single human figure - alone in a moment of utter immobility.
But the solitary figure coould not raise its limbs in a single gesture that might indicate its concern with the fact of mortality and an insatiable appetite for ubiquitious experience in face of this fact. Nor could the solitude be overcome. It could gather on beaches and sreets and in parks only through coincidence, and with its companions, form a tableau vivant of human incommunicability.
I do not believe that there was ever a question of being abstract or representational. It is really a matter of ending this silence and solitude, of breathing and stretching one's arms again.
THE ROMANTICS WERE PROMPTED
"Possibilities 1 , winter 1947 -1948
Posted by teifidancer at 15:16