Last month i have visited the great anthological exposition on Mark Rothko, closed on 6 January 2008 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome (Italy). Today, 25 February, anniversary of the death of the painter, i found myself writing a consideration that i had when i was standing in front of his artworks and that it has returned in my mind reading again the pamphlet.
This painter is mainly known for his numerous abstract paintings of simple rectangles or fields in which the representation is totally absent.
My consideration concerns exactly these paintings of the abstract period.
Approximately in the first fifteen years of his career as a painter, Rothko has had a stylistic evolution that has led him to a progression from the expressionism, to the symbolism, to the surrealism. Then, between 1945 and 1947, its painting has a rapid change, eliminating any element of representation to definitely become abstract.
That abstractionism will be a constant for the remaining twenty and more years of his life.
In the same time of this breakup with the representative Art, Rothko also decides to paint his abstract paintings on canvases of large and very large size.
The exposition in Rome offered a very complete panorama of this evolutionary process of Rothko, allowing to quantify the dimensions of this stylistic progression.
The show occupied up to seven of the big halls of the ground floor located around the porch.
Well: the first fifteen years of his painting evolution exhausted itself in the first two halls, while the rest of the abstract production occupied the other five.
Apart the first two halls and the explanatory texts, the rest of the show could be visited in two minutes, at a fast pace, since the abstract artworks by Rothko are all similar.
Obviously on the Abstract Art of Rothko several critique essays do exist, in this case perhaps extremely wordy, that propose technical virtuosities or cravings of the painter as justifications of his crystallization of the contents, his obsession for a sole subject.
Some examples of the Abstract Art by Mark Rothko
Personally I do not appreciate the serial production, the reiteration of a subject, unless it persists just for a limited period or is justified by a conceptual reason; anyway I cannot conceive how a painter can keep on painting exclusively the same thing for over twenty years. To me such a behaviour is mere commercial opportunism.
Or the passive reiteration could be caused by an intellectual exhaustion or by a pathological apathy that has become desperation.
One could also consider that Rothko, some years before this change of expression, suffered of depression after a divorce, but exactly in 1945 he married again and had a happy marriage. In any case the desperation and the self-pity are not compatible with genius. The genius of an Artist can be seen in his multi-faceted personality, in the eclecticism, in his capacity to adapt himself to the changes of the world, in expressing his own intellectual or spiritual evolution, revealing his own vitality, his own wish to oppose even to the troubles of life.
Rothko was of Jewish Russian family: still a child he saw to the violent retaliations of the Cossacks against the Jews, to the point that somebody wants to relate the paintings with rectangles to the vision of the mass graves, scenes of several slaughters, that shocked him when he was a child.
Anyway a weird coincidence reminds me that the reality is not so simple, but is a complex mixture composed by many things: revenge, envy, contamination and respect, besides hate and exorcism.
Adolf Hitler, adopting a thought of the Minister of National Socialist Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, said:
"Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it."
Exactly starting in the period in which the second world war ended, Rothko began to realize big paintings
, of extremely simple
subjects and in an absolutely repetitive
Today Rothko is one of the highly rated painters: in 2007 one of his paintings has been purchased at Sotheby's New York for nearly 73 millions of dollars. That is a painting of 1950 entitled "White center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)"; it is the third one in the upper row of the previous picture.
Anyway this assiduous repetition of coloured rectangles had a sort of evolution: toward the last years of life of the painter, the colours became darker and less gaudy, with more and more preference for greys and blacks.
No title, 1968
In 1969 Marcus Rothkowitz committed suicide at the age of 66 cutting his veins of both arms with a razor.
Jokingly we could even find an interpretation to his abstract artworks: they could be the revelation of his states of mind through the use of the colours; as if they were litmus papers, to which these paintings curiously resemble.
A litmus paper
And we could even say that sometimes the fibs become unbearable and they lead to a blind alley.