Artist of the Week: Mark Rothko

Is this Russian-American painter the greatest Abstract Expressionist ever?
Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko

Last week, a Russian man named Vladamir Umanets, the founder of a movement he calls Yellowism, walked into London's Tate Modern and calmly scrawled his name and the words "A Potential Piece of Yellowism" on the painting Black on Maroon, by Mark Rothko. Tate Modern instantly closed its doors, Twitter was ablaze with whodunits, and the art press clamored to denounce the action. That a man defaced a painting hung in one of the most important galleries in the world was one thing. That it was a work by Mark Rothko, a Russian-American painter classified as one of the greatest ever abstract expressionists... Well, that's a different thing entirely.

Born Marcus Rothkowitz in Russia in 1903, Rothko's father emigrated to the US in 1913 fearing the Czarist army draft and the artist quickly followed. In New York he discovered the work of Paul Klee, Georges Roualt and Arshile Gorky, among others, and, inspired by the potential of art as a tool of emotional and religious expression, quickly began creating huge paintings filled with deeply evocative expanses of yellows, greens, maroons, reds and browns.

Mark Rothko, Black on Maroon (1958)
Mark Rothko, Black on Maroon (1958)

Largely self-taught, Rothko aimed to immerse the viewer in a total colour experience. "I paint large pictures because I want to create a state of intimacy," he once said. "A large picture is an immediate transaction; it takes you into it."

The results (obvious in Houston's mind-boggling Rothko Chapel, or the Rothko-dedicated room at the Tate Modern) are magical and ethereal, and evoke the true spirit of Abstract Expressionism – "an ultimate response to the unattainable mysteries of the human psyche."

To read more about Mark Rothko, and hundreds of other great artists, buy your copy of The Art Book New Edition now.


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