Born in Dvinsk, Russia, Marcus Rothkowitz (he would begin using the name Mark Rothko in 1940) immigrated to Portland, Oregon, at the age of 10. An excellent student, he enrolled at Yale University, but he dropped out without completing his degree and moved to New York City. During the early 1920s he studied with modernist Max Weber at the Art Students League. Later in the decade, he became friends with Milton Avery, whom he regarded as a mentor.
Throughout the 1930s, Rothko painted figuratively, often producing portraits or moody paintings depicting isolated city dwellers. In 1935, he and friend Adolph Gottlieb co-founded the Ten, a group of artists loosely connected by their expressionistic, emotional styles.
In 1947 Rothko began eliminating all references to the observed world from his paintings, and he stopped relying on the drawn, gestural line as a vehicle of expression. In a series of paintings created between 1947 and 1949, called “multiforms,” Rothko covered
surfaces with irregularly shaped patches of vivid color. Despite the absence of recognizable imagery, these multiforms shared with the preceding Surrealist pieces a sense of forms evolving or in flux.
For the balance of his career, Rothko limited his formal concerns to subtle variations of color, texture, and rectangular shape. These large-scale paintings achieved the transcendent universality to which Rothko had long aspired. He preferred to present his work in environments like chapels, where viewers could become wholly absorbed in the experience.
Internationally acclaimed but depressed and physically weak, Mark Rothko committed suicide in 1970.
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