Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz to Jewish family in Dvinsk, Russia (now Latvia). He is American painter and printmaker who is classified as an Abstract Expressionist, although he rejected not only the label but even being an abstract painter.
After the outbreak of the 1905 revolution in Czarist Russia, his father Jacob, pharmacist, emigrated and settled with the rest of family in Portland, Oregon. Rothko attended Yale University, New Haven, from 1921 to 1923. Soon he left Yale and moved to New York.
In the autumn of 1925 he took courses at the Art Students League of New York, taught by still-life artist Max Weber, another Russian Jew. It was from Weber that Rothko began to see art as a tool of emotional and religious expression and Rothko’s earliest paintings portray a Weber’s influence. He participated in his first group exhibition at the Opportunity Galleries, New York, in 1928.
While he teaching painting and clay sculpture at the Center Academy, Rothko became a close friend of Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, Joseph Solman and John Graham. Avery’s stylized natural scenes, utilizing a rich knowledge of form and color, would be a strong influence on Rothko, began to address similar subject matter and color. Rothko had his first large one-man show in New York at the Contemporary Arts Gallery, in 1933, showing 15 oil paintings, mostly portraits.
In late 1935 Rothko joined with Ilya Bolotowsky, Ben-Zion, Adolph Gottlieb, Lou Harris, Ralph Rosenborg, Lou Schankerand, Joe Solomon to form “The Ten” (Whitney Ten Dissenters,) sympathetic to Abstraction and Expressionism.
He executed easel paintings for the WPA Federal Art Project from 1936 to 1937. By 1936 Rothko knew Barnett Newman. In the early 1940s he worked closely with Gottlieb, developing a painting style with mythological content, simple flat shapes, and imagery inspired by primitive art. By mid-decade his work incorporated Surrealist techniques and images. Peggy Guggenheim gave Rothko a solo show at Art of This Century in New York in 1945.
In 1947 and 1949 Rothko taught at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, where Clyfford Still was a fellow instructor. With William Baziotes, David Hare, and Robert Motherwell, Rothko founded the short-lived Subjects of the Artist school in New York in 1948. The late 1940s and early 1950s saw the emergence of Rothko’s mature style, in which frontal, luminous rectangles seem to hover on the canvas surface.
In 1958 the artist began his first commission, monumental paintings for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gave Rothko an important solo exhibition in 1961. He completed murals for Harvard University in 1962 and in 1964 accepted a mural commission for an interdenominational chapel in Houston. Rothko took his own life on February 25, 1970, in his New York studio.
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