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Mark Rothko (1923-1997)


Rothko immigrated to the United States with his Russian-Jewish family in 1913 and moved ten years later to New York, where he studied at the Art Students League. Throughout the 1930s he made figurative paintings on mostly urban themes. In 1940, in search of more profound and universal themes and impressed by his readings of Nietzsche and Jung, Rothko began to engage with ancient myths as a source of "eternal symbols". Rothko first made compositions based on classical myths and then, by the mid-1940s, painted biomorphic, Surrealist-inspired, hybrid creatures floating in primordial waters. At the end of the decade these forms began to change into floating color shapes with loose, undefined edges within larger expanses of color. By 1949, Rothko had arrived at the basic two or three soft-edged rectangles which were to form the works of the next 20 years. He applied thin washes of oil paint that contain many tonal variations and blurred the edges of the rectangles to create luminous color effects and a shifting, ambiguous space. In the late 1950s Rothko began to move away from bright, sensuous color toward hues that were deep and somber. He received commissions for large public spaces, such as in the Seagram Building in New York, at Harvard University, and in a chapel in Houston, Texas, built by Philip Johnson. Rothko exemplifies another and quite different aspect of abstract expressionism, which has been described as "meditative" as opposed to the "expressive" style of Jackson Pollock


 
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