I went to a major Mark Rothko show at the Portland Art Museum yesterday. I’ve always felt a strong attraction to his work but not known much about the artist himself beyond the obligatory things one must study in a Art Since ’45 class as an undergrad. This exhibition was deep and cohesive. Most of the paintings came from the Rothko family and the National Gallery in DC. The show began with paintings from the early days and it kept going until just before his suicide. Right from the first thing you saw, a nascent still life, you could lock onto a thread and follow it through the galleries – a thread wending its way through the various Modernistic styles Rothko appropriated over the years. That thread was his own voice building over time. From Cezanne, to Miro, to Clifford Still, to Milton Avery, ultimately Rothko found his own place in his final and monolithic paintings. A beautiful and spiritual crescendo.
On my way out, I was struck by a quote the museum had placed on the wall:
“The progression of a painter’s work,
as it travels in time from point to point,
will be towards clarity; toward the
elimination of all obstacles
between the painter and the idea,
between the idea and the observer.”
– Mark Rothko, 1952
/ / / / /
Update: A good friend just sent me a link to a terrific online article about Mark Rothko’s early days in Portland, Oregon. A good read, and it offers insight into his work and life. Click here to read it.