Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko was an American painter of Russian descent, who is most often associated with the abstract expressionism movement. He painted very large abstract canvasses which were intended to be viewed at close quarters, allowing his viewers to become completely immersed in the work without any external distractions. This was to enable his paintings to communicate basic human emotions very directly to the viewer.

Unlike many other abstract artists, Rothko avoided using hard edges, straight lines and geometry in his paintings. Instead, he painted large fields of colour which were floated within the picture plane. The edges of these fields were softened and diffused, merging into the painted ground below.

White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) 1950

In his large colour field works, Rothko's interest wasn't in dividing the picture plane into clearly defined regions to form his compositions. Instead, he allowed a small number of expansive fields of colour to dominate the space within the canvas. because the edges were softened, these fields seemed to hover and float within the space.

In some areas, Many of these areas of colour were applied with opaque paint, but others were painted in a way that allowed the colour underneath to partly show through. This gives the surface a shimmering, luminous quality. While considering these works Rothko intended for his viewers to become completely lost in them, and experience a sense of infinity.

To help achieve this Rothko tended to be very specific about the kind of spaces in which the paintings were displayed, and the lighting conditions under which the works should be viewed.

Try it yourself!


Rothko's work is an example of colour field painting, a type of abstraction in which the surface of the canvas is painted with large areas of flat, solid colour, so that the colour itself becomes the subject of the painting.