On Rothko and the Portland Retrospective (Part 1): What to Expect from a Rationalist who Loves Rothko

Posted: February 5, 2012 in Experiences, On Beauty
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Mark Rothko was born in 1903 in Dvinsk, in the province of Vitebsk, in Russia (This is actually now in Latvia) but spent his school years, beginning in 1913 and ending at our very own Lincoln High School, here in Portland Oregon. He was also an early member of our Jewish Community here and was an active participant at the Jewish Community Center. Rothko left Portland to attend Yale (which he found too “WASPish” and racist) and, though he left that school after a couple of years he chose to stay back east and not to return to Portland. It is in New York (where else?) that he established himself, partly at the New School, partly just because that was the largest center of American art (though as a California kid I always want to dispute that). He became one of the greatest and most celebrated painters of the 20th century and one of my own personal favorite artists.

The great painter died in February of 1970 but February of 2012 brings him back to Portland in spirit. Because Rothko is one of my favorite artists, because we share a connection to the Portland “art scene”, because I will soon have the opportunity to meet his family, and because (to my mind) the Portland Art museum’s upcoming Rothko Retrospective is one of the most significant modern art events in the Pacific Northwest, I will be blogging about Rothko on several occasions over the next month, or so.

Here is some of what you can look forward to. (1) I’ll discuss my opinions about the role of Nietzsche’s philosophy in Rothko’s work. (2) I’ll try to make my case, to my friends who don’t like 20th century abstraction, about why I love Rothko and why that love is consistent with my personal philosophy of art. (3) I’ll share my experiences at Rothko Chapel in Houston and the personal significance of having taken my young nieces and nephews (now, long since grown) to experience that space. (4) I’ll share my upcoming  experience when I am blessed with the chance to meet the Rothko family. (5) I’ll tell you about the experience of spending an extended time sitting alone in DC with Duncan Philips collection of Rothko paintings. (6) I’ll likely ramble on (and probably not always accurately) about aesthetics, spirituality, color theory, and space. (7) I’ll tell you what I think when I see the PAM show. And, (8) God only know what else will pop up. One thing that I won’t discuss is what happened on February 25th, 1970. That is  the domain of psychologists (of which I am surely not one), philosophers (of which you all know I am a rank amateur), and those who knew Mr. Rothko personally (sadly, not me).

I was 10 years old when Mark Rothko died. But, I have deep acquaintance with his work through my art school education, the luck of having Rothko Chapel in my wife’s home town, and the shared love that my aunt Joey and uncle Mel have for his work [Oh yeah Aunt Joey… Item number 9 will probably discuss why Rothko’s work is powerful enough to make an art lover cry 🙂 ]. For those reasons and others, Mark Rothko is a great influence on me. In the upcoming posts, I hope to help you understand why.

Stay tuned!

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