Mark Rothko – A journey into human emotions

Mark Rothko has been one of the most influential artists of the last century. Despite his great production –nearly 800 works were left in charge to the heirs after his death – and the different periods that have characterised it, he is known in particular as one of the protagonists of the Abstract Expressionism, the first American current that got international recognition. And that is also how I got to know him: through his colourful undefined rectangles. When I’ve started to see his paintings on the many online art channels I follow, I genuinely wondered why he has become so important in art history. I started to read more about him, and his works were described as a pure journey into the human emotions, to be experienced in first person. Then the exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Museum of Art History in Vienna, came.

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Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red (post-title), 1949 (image taken from wikiart.org)

While Rothko has revolutionised the art world during his times, I think in Europe he still hasn’t the recognition he deserves, if we consider other artists like Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Henri Matisse (and I haven’t mentioned these artists as merely contemporaries of him; but let’s proceed step by step). Europe in history has always been the centre of the artistic movement with respect to the rest of the world (and here it is interesting to mention my post about a study from Roberta Sinatra, where it is shown that nowadays the major museums and art institutions are almost concentrated in the United States). And it is from the old continent that Rothko takes his inspiration.

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Untitled, 1944 (image taken from wikiart.org)

But let’s start from the origins: Marcus Rothkovich was born in 1903 in Dvinsk, a city in Russia, nowadays in Latvia, from a Jewish family. Since an early age he shows a perceptive and sensitive soul, particularly affected also by the times he lives in: before the First World War there is already a feeling of intolerance against Jews all over Russia. When the situation worsens, his father decides to emigrate with the family to Portland, in the United States. Here Marcus becomes a great student and receives a fellowship for Yale University, although he is still not devoted to art only and chooses a major in humanities. He will never finish his studies at Yale, though he will get, 46 years later, an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts.

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Interior, 1936, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, US (image taken from wikiart.org)

After having dropped out of Yale due to financial reasons, he decides to move to New York and continues his studies in drawing and design. He enrols in the class of the famous Modern artist Max Weber, who shares the same background of being Jewish and immigrant with his student and soon becomes friends with him. Max Weber had travelled to Paris and met Henri Matisse, with whom he studied for a short timee. Thanks to him and to the increasing interest in museums and exhibitions, Rothko gets introduced to his contemporaries in Europe, like the Fauves (the French group around Matisse) and the German Expressionism. This will be the beginning of a long exploration in the art world, from which Mark will constantly take inspiration to create his personal and unique style. Other strong influences –and artists that will deeply inspire him – will come from Milton Avery, Giorgio De Chirico, Michelangelo, but also Nietzsche, the Greek mythology, poetry, music.

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Underground Fantasy, 1942, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, US (image taken from wikiart.org)

His artistic development can be divided in four different periods: the Realist years, from 1924 to 1940, the Surrealist period, from 1940 to 1945; the transition ‘til 1949 that will lead him to the Abstract Expressionism period, his trademark style.

The works characterizing his first two stages are mainly landscapes, interiors, still-life, New York subway scenes, clearly inspired by his first mentor, Max Weber.

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Untitled, 1942, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, US (image taken from wikiart.org)

In 1940 Marcus Rothkovich decides to change his name in Mark Rothko, uncanny because disconnected to any nationality. The period during the Second World War has a strong influence on his style, bringing a deep change in his conception of art, making for him inconceivable to keep painting like before. This change makes him revisiting the Greek mythology, whose brutal tragedies of violence and revenge and strong passions well reflect the modern times. The transition in his works starts with the abandon of concrete subjects to focus on colours and shapes (the so-called multiforms), getting then to his classical stage of pure abstraction, influenced by Dada and Surrealism coming from Europe.

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Multiform (post-title), 1948, 118.7 x 144 cm, National Gallery of Australia (NGA), Canberra, Australia (image taken from wikiart.org)

What emerges from Rothko’s art, in particular from the last period, is the absence of any guidance to interpret his works, later reflected also in the removal of the titles, with the artworks simply numbered. His intention is, indeed, to leave the viewer, through the colours and the large sizes of the canvasses, free to experience their own feelings and emotions.Mark Rothko hasn’t been a poor, unfortunate artist: he has rather been successful and estimated. Yet, he has always refused any label and has always felt somehow misunderstood by the art world. A double proof of his great talent and ability of touching human vulnerability.

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Untitled, 1968, Gemeentemuseum den Haag, Hague, Netherlands (image taken from wikiart.org)

There is a lot more I would like to add about this artist that has deeply impressed me; but I would, instead, suggest to simply take the chance to visit the great exhibition that the Kunsthistorisches Museum is offering in Vienna until the 30th of June, or simply to get curious about him, and to open your mind to the beauty that is not necessary expressed in the form of an idyllic landscape.


 

Head image: Self-portrait, 1936 (image taken from the official page of the exhibition)

All the information are taken from the book Rothko – Pictures as drama, from Jacob Baal-Teschuva, Taschen Books editions, that I bought at the Kunsthistorisches Museum after having visited the exhibition. I give high value to the quality and correctness of my contents, but I am also just an enthusiast (you can find my self-introduction here). Please leave any comment or addition that can improve or give a wider view on this great artist!

Meeting poetry: Precious Okoyomon

I’m going to Zurich for the weekend, visiting some friends.

I try to be a poet. Somehow I feel like I am one.

I am following a real one on Instagram (sentence I thought I would have never used, grumpy and sceptic as I am with these new “social” means, making you even less social than before).

I see on the same f@#g Instagram she is going to Zurich too. She is from New York.

I contact her immediately, maybe I have an occasion to meet your art..?

She replies yes! In few weeks. I am there for few days.

Then she says “well, we can hang out together then”.

OKAY.

We meet and greet. She is calm, sweet, with such a delicate voice. I love voices. I love delicate voices.

I would love my mind to be a recorder, like a proper one, able to keep every single word. I am just a human.

We have lunch together, we walk around during an unexpected sunny day.

I wasn’t expecting anything, but I am definitely impressed. Not by her words, or her aspect, or her shyness: rather by what she radiates. She IS poetry.

I talk more than her; it wasn’t my idea, actually the opposite; still I want to give her something too.

I met Precious Okoyomon, and this is our story.

 

Precious is a young and talented artist. Grown up between London and Lagos, she is currently living in New York. By connecting her daily writings – messages to friends, notes taken on the phone while walking in the streets – she has shaped her own style, still taking inspirations from the authors and artists who touch her soul. She is now introduced to Europe by the art guru Hans Ulrich Obrist, who fell immediately in love with her art. Currently she has her first solo exhibition in Zurich where she present her sculptures made with mixed materials and natural live elements –trees, mushrooms, plants that are constantly growing and blooming. Her three-dimensional poetry.

“My sculptures are a continuum with my poetry, it’s just a different form”.

The exhibition, A drop of Sun under the Earth, is open until the 20th of April  at the Schwarzescafè at Luma Westbau, the headquarter of a non-profit local foundation that supports emergent artists. If you have the chance, don’t miss it!

 

The beauty of Beauty

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Illustration of different ways of sitting, human beings

Do we sit on chairs and eat on tables for its proper function or is there also an aesthetic motivation behind it? And what is created to be functional should leave aesthetics out to maximize and focus on the function only? How do our senses work and why do they tend to conglomerate in the same idea of beauty? These are just few of the questions answered or simply addressed by Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh, creators of the exhibition Beauty, on show until the end of March in the MAK Museum, the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna.

The location itself is an architectural masterpiece in the style of the Neo-Renaissance, offering a permanent collection from different artistic periods: Viennese design from the 20th century, a Baroque, Rococo and Classicism section, Art Nouveau, Empire Style, Asian art. Currently it is possible to visit a commemorative and comprehensive solo exhibition of the works from Koloman Moser, an eclectic Austrian artist died one century ago; and Chinese Whispers, an exhibition taking Chinese contemporary art to Vienna. But let’s go back to our (my) focus.

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The main hall of MAK; art installation “Two hundred and Seventy”, artist Nils Voelker

Beauty is an interactive, informative journey into the concept itself, how we define and perceive things. This topic links as well to my last post where I talked about the difficulty – even impossibility – to identify parameters in art and, therefore, quantify the value of an artwork. “Beauty is a combination of shape, color, form, composition, material and texture to please the aesthetic senses, especially the sight”: this blue neon sign welcomes you in the majestic entrance of the museum, where a huge installation made with Two Hundred and Seventy (that is its title too) plastic bags following a programmed choreography, giving the idea of a huge sailing ship floating upon everyone’s head.

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“For Plato beauty is a moral value. What is good is beautiful, and what is beautiful is good.”

I love the arrangement of the exhibition, which spreads all over the museum: in different rooms, up the stairs, even in the toilets. One area is dedicated to the exploration of our senses, how we tend to have the same unconscious parameters to identify beauty. A consistent part of Beauty is inevitably, referring to the background of the authors, about design, being architecture or interior, facing the relative importance of aesthetics, functionality and environmental sustainability.

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The evolution of the drinking glass, ca.1500 – 2000

In the past, aesthetic was the driving force when designing something new, getting less and less importance with the development of technology and market needs. During the 21st century in particular it almost disappeared  – and this is nicely shown right in front of the entrance, with representative piles of books showing the trend of the use of the word itself  in literature throughout the centuries – to get recognition back in the last decades.

Few experiments and considerations are proposed on the concept of beauty, leaving the clear evidence that beauty is unnecessary, yet we need it. We search for it, we recognize it spontaneously. Sometimes it is everywhere, sometimes, hard to find; still I think it needs to be educated, and put in the right context. We can as well think about the different ways to interpret it among times, cultures, society. Said all this, let’s leave some space to personal taste and sensibility. And when we have different opinions, still we will get the same feelings and pleasure. Then we can talk about it: but in the end, emotions are what brings us to the same point. Enjoy (and bring) beauty, enjoy this Beauty if you can!

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Can we overlook the aspect for the benefit of our environment? Different examples of ecological and fair trade items: the book Small is beautiful from the research economist Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, the Mango Wooden Radio, the DIY Cellphone, a simple refrigerator (Terracooler) and water purification system (Watercone, Wadi and Life Straw)

Why beauty matters? This is the contest Sagmeister and Walsh launched within the exhibition. Have a look at their Instagram page to take part in, send the most beautiful thing you’ve ever made or seen.