Top positive review
One person found this helpful
A superbly-illustrated introduction
on 8 October 2013
It is probably impossible in a book to present the artistic development of an artist whose work crucially depends upon its size that provides an opportunity for the viewer to step inside it, and who always refused to interpret his paintings since `the explanation must come out of a consummated experience between picture and onlooker'. Nevertheless, this Taschen book, by Jacob Baal-Teshuva, examines the life and work of Mark Rothko who is generally regarded, along with Jackson Pollock, to be one of the fathers of post-war modernism, influencing the direction of late 20th century monochrome painting.
The colour reproduction, including 30 full page plates, is of very high quality. Following an introduction, `Pictures as Drama', 85 reproductions are presented within a chronological narrative. The book concludes with an illustrated Chronology and a Selected Bibliography. The author divides Rothko's career into 4 stages: `the Realist years' (1924-1940), `the Surrealist years' (1940-1946), `the Transitional years' (1946-1949) and `the Classical years' (1949-1970). The first 2 stages centred on landscapes, interiors, city scenes, still-lifes and the artist's New York subway paintings. During the wartime and immediate post-war periods, Rothko produced symbolic works based on Greek mythology and religious motifs. During the Transitional stage, the artist created `multiforms', not a term used by the artist, which evolved into his classical Colour Field works.
Rothko, influenced by Max Weber and Milton Avery, initially produced watercolour beach scenes and joined Gallery Secession and The Ten, both promoting an avant-garde, modernist aesthetic. "Untitled [Subway]", c. 1937, affirms the artist's opinion that modern urban life was both lonely and isolating. Adolph Gottlieb and Rothko began to paint works inspired by mythology, such as "Antigone", 1939-40, and "The Omen", 1943, in the early 1940s to identify a possible way forward for American painting and to address fundamental questions of humanity. However critical opinion was largely negative. Rothko was impressed by the large non-figurative works of Clyfford Still which led him to move away from representational works and to consider his works to be `dramas'. In 1946-47 the artist finally impressed critics with a show of his watercolours and agreed for his work to be sold through a gallery.
The artist no longer gave his works names (where names are mentioned they are usually a result of dealer's descriptions), increased the size of his canvasses and in his multiforms, such as "No. 26", and "No. 18", both from 1948, he separated his blocks of colour from the edges of the paintings and did away with frames. His colour hues also changed with time, before the mid-1950s he preferred reds and yellows, as in "Untitled, 1948", whilst later he increasingly painted in dark blues and greens, creating gloomy, mysterious works. About this time tensions developed amongst Abstract Impressionists, with personal, professional and political differences causing Rothko to break with many colleagues and friends, including Still and Barnett Newman. The artist felt that he was misunderstood and not appreciated, and rejected all attempts to get him to explain his work.
In 1958, the artist painted murals for the Seagram Building restaurant. Later, he abandoned the project up and the works were eventually divided between America, Japan and Britain. Abstract Expressionism also came under attack from younger and more modern exponents of Pop Art, who exploited images from advertising and mass media. He was also discouraged by problems of lighting some of his works at Harvard, "Panel One (Harvard Mural Triptych)", 1962.
The book illustrates many of Rothko's signature works from the mid-late 1960s, including those from his final years where, with assistants, he explored dark colours, mirroring his melancholy and depression that led to his suicide, in 1970. This is a well-presented and illustrated introduction to the artist. The illustration on the front cover is "Untitled (Yellow, Red and Blue)", 1953.