IM-51 video materials: Rothko

Mark Rothko(Ротко)

1.Just how powerful is art? Can it change your life – can it change the world?

The paintings arrived at London Tate gallery. A few hours earlier on the same day Rothko's body was discovered laying on bathroom floor in his mid-town studio. The painter who has been so much time in his own mindin the realms of the dead has killed himself, and now had in Londonsomething like his own Mausoleum.

— I wasn't in much of a hurry to see his newly installed paintings

— a monument to another fallen American abstract painter

— we weren't into reverence too much – not in 1970 J— we were into «playtime».

— The idea that art should be solemn was a turn-off — a bit like being made to go to church.

— And there they were (the paintings) – laying in wait – now, it wasn't love at first sight – light should be kept almost pretentiously low – it was like going to cinema.

Something in there was pulsing, like the inside of a body part, all crimson and purple – I felt pulled through those black lines into some mysterious place in the universe. Rothko: «His paintings begin an unknown adventure...» BUT Simon Shama: «I wasn't even sure I wanted to go there» J«and the destination might not exactly be a picnic».

— They say that money follows art AND art likes money too – there is nothing a painter likes more than a wealthy patron. Canadian liquor company «Seagram's» wanted to decorate their New York headquarters.

— the 55 year old painter was at the peak of his fame; to prove that the US has depth and not just dazzle.

— he was the greatest living American painter, or so they said; he had gone through 30 years of financial hardship and mental struggle; wrestling with the biggest question of all – what could art do? Can it connect us with the basic emotions that make us human (ecstasy, anguish, desire, terror)?

— the architect of the Seagram's building approached Rothko to do something for the four seasons…

— as commissions go – they didn't come any bigger! Anyone else would have jumped at such an offer.

Rothko thought long and hard about it. Because he was ambivalent, and not just about commission, but about American capitalism, about his own American success story.

The local Cossacks indulging in their favorite activity – beating up Jews (Dvinsk). New York – the golden city.

Two kinds of Jews – businessmen and those who brought with them the most precious thing – culture.

Happier talking to his children about Dostoevsky and Dickens than doing the accounts.

Hebrew school; read every sort of book he could get his hands on; Mark was the smart one – the one who is gonna make it. A big heart and a big mouth to match. Rothko won a scholarship to Yale University, but Yale wasn't even sure it wanted Jews at all and introduced a quota. He didn't need a saber-wielding Cossack to feel unloved – he dropped out. He was the other kind – the one with a creative itch;

— the greatest challenge of his career; he rented a vast space in an old gym. Rothko envisioned the Seagram's murals as a kind of wordless teaching, an antidote to triviality of modern life; one of the basic problems of the commission was its sheer size; all previous works were on a human scale – personal; but this was public and Manhattan was watching;

— "A picture lives by companionship, expending and quickening in the eyes of a sensitive observer… it is, therefore, a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world";

— another lost soul in the Jazz Age New York – he wasn't really into bootleg and boogie-woogie – more like Marx and Mozart – he was burning to do something about the modern world.

— come to New York to wonder around, bum about and starve a bit… to make ends meet taught kids in the Jewish community center… not to mind the rules – painting was as natural as singing.

— he was doing something that children didn't do – thinking too hard. The subway series… paintings… that catch  you off-guard. Alienation, compelling strangeness – he took an everyday urban scene and loaded it with clammy sensation of doom… or wondering souls trapped in Purgatory? He called his colors – «performance».

-the tragic notion of the image is always present in my mind – I can't point it out – there are no skull and bones J

— the whole problem of art is to establish human values in this specific civilization – his art is about the world. Sense of the tragic is always with me when I paint; I am interested only in expressing basic human emotions.

And the fact that people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate those basic emotions.

— Not much of a market for painters in New York in 1930s.

— the modern masters (of painting) made him feel worse; — Matisse's «Red Studio» finally switched something "On" – Matisse liberated color from specific objects. Things no longer have a color – the painting does.

But back in 1930s Rothko was still thinking too hard to paint like this.

— instead of following his instinct he went back to his books (tragic literature); he chainsmoked his way through (all these books – Greek & Shakespearean tragedies, Nietzsche etc.)

Mythology — slaughter, sacrifice and disembowelment by the yard; but Rothko's archeological excursions in the land of the dead were overtaken by the real world. Not for Rothko – classified «unfit for service» due to acute shortsightedness. But Rothko knew that a conflict was a crossroads for art.

— with civilization facing annihilation, it was up to America to save Western culture from fascism J

not just by offering safe haven (хейвен \ хевен) for refugee painters  from Europe… but by doing something equal to the times; easier said (and they said it a lot) than done;

exhausted by his endeavor, he took a 3 months vocation to Europe...

— we get an insight into how exactly he was feeling from a reported conversation… on the trans-Atlantic ocean liner; he railed against the SOBs – hoped his painting would ruin the appetite – as a gladiatorial contest «Mark VS Manhattan»; he had done a grand tour; He (Michelangelo) achieved just the kind of feeling I am after. All the windows \ doors are bricked – all they can do – buck their head against the wall, forever. Manhattan's smartest restaurant. Big, spell-binding paintings; They emanate an uncanny force field; Rothko had accomplished something utterly original; It's what Rothko makes them (the colors) do… the paintings don't just dumbly watch – they come and get us! Rothko: I am not a mystic – I am giving you material experience;  

Could he relax a little and back in the glow of his success… Rothko: «The people who weep before my painting are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them»...

Rothko was someone who thought it was immoral to spend more than 5 bucks on a meal and was often perfectly happy with a Chinese takeaway, but as he sat among the milliners… his confidence sunk like a stone: «anybody who will eat that kind of food for that kind of money will never look at a painting of mine!»

The Huston chapel; A veil hanging between two columns; gateway – portal;

Everything was made ambiguous – this isn't about now, this is about forever – everything between womb and tomb...

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