The first color field painter I’ll post about is Mark Rothko. Rothko did not begin as a color field painter but he his best known for the paintings he did in this style.
Rothko was born in Russia in 1903. He and his family moved to Oregon when he was 10 years old. They struggled for money. Rothko did well in school and earned a scholarship to Yale University. He thought he would become an engineer or an attorney—careers at which he would make some money. In 1923, his second year of college, Rothko left Yale.
He moved to New York City and became involved with some artists. He began taking classes at the New School of Design. Arshile Gorky, whom I wrote about earlier, was one of Rothko’s teachers.
Rothko’s early paintings were somewhat realistic. They showed some recognizable objects such as people, buildings, and landscapes. (For an example click here.)
In the 1940s Rothko became interested in using mythology in his paintings. He thought he could best paint emotion by showing known creatures from myths. These mythological paintings were similar in style to Surrealist paintings. (For example: The Syrian Bull.) It didn’t take long for Rothko to decide that mythology was outdated. He began to believe that too many artists had already used myths in their paintings. He was also convinced that painting myths wasn’t the best way to show emotion in his art.
Mark Rothko’s art became more abstract at the end of the 1940s. He decided that simple shapes were the best for showing complicated feelings. The large, simple shapes allow you to feel instead of think when you look at Rothko’s paintings. (Examples: here, here.)
His later paintings, those from 1948 and later, show only two, three, or four rectangles lined up one of top of the other (vertically). He painted these color field paintings on huge canvases because he wanted the viewer to get lost in the painting. He didn’t want you to stand back from his paintings and look on. He wanted you, instead, to stand close and become a part of the artwork. He wanted you to feel the emotion he had painted. (For images click here, here.)
Beginning in the late 1950s, Rothko used much darker colors. He overlapped colors until the canvas was covered with deep reds, blues, blacks. He was painting sadder, angrier moods than before. (For images click here, here.)
Rothko died in 1970.
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