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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Tragedy, Ecstasy, Destiny

These fundamental human emotions are the only thing American painter Mark Rothko, one of the outstanding figures of Abstract Expressionists, cared about. Mark Rothko. The Retrospective is on view at the Hamburger Kunsthalle through August 24. The exhibit - more than 70 oil paintings on canvas and more than 40 works on paper - offers a rare opportunity to indulge again or to discover anew this extraordinary painter’s oeuvre.

After his early interest in Expressionism and Surrealism, Russian-born Rothko (1903-1970) turned towards abstraction around 1946 and henceforth developed his very distinctive style. Also known as one of the preeminent creators of Color Field Painting Rothko’s usually vertical formatted paintings feature large rectangular expanses of color arranged parallel to each other. The edges of these shapes are softly uneven, giving them a hazy, pulsating quality. Liberated from all narrative and figural elements the color shapes seem to hover or float over the canvas. His mostly large canvases produce an effect of calmness and contemplation in the viewer. Rothko: “The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them. And if you say you are moved only by their color relationships then you miss the point.”

Charged with highly emotional intensity the creation of the paintings depleted the artist of precious life energy costing him enormous emotional effort. Rothko, whose paintings realize up to 73 million dollars at auction today was poor for most of his career. Finally in 1961 he was given a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. But even with all the fame that followed Mark Rothko was troubled by depression.

The exhibit at Hamburger Kunsthalle shows Rothko’s late Black and White paintings that give an idea of the bewilderment and despair that Mark Rothko must have sensed late in his life. A year after the completion of his masterpieces, 14 paintings (1967-69) for a non-denominational Chapel in Houston, Texas, Mark Rothko committed suicide in his studio.

originally published in Currents June/July 2008

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