Hello again! Erika here from small shop with another edition of Design Under the Influence! With abstract art being all the rage right now, I thought it would be fun to talk a little about one of the most recognizable and well-loved abstract artists, Mark Rothko.
1) Rothko was deeply influenced by color theories first developed in the 17th & 18th centuries; 2) His paintings were quite large in size, and were meant to be viewed “up close and personal”; 3) It was Rothko’s intention that viewers have a sensory experience with his paintings.
First off, let’s talk color theory. It’s not something we think about much, but the color wheel was invented by Isaac Newton in the 1660’s — you know, ROYGBIV, complementary/contrasting/primary colors, etc. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe took it a step further in the 19th century and found that reds and oranges created warmth, while blues and greens created coolness. This emotional impact of color perception, harmony and discord, is what interested Rothko, and he and other Abstract Expressionists began to play with color as a means of expanding our experiences. Rothko believed, “The most interesting painting is one that expresses more of what one thinks than of what one sees.”
Have you had the opportunity to view a Rothko in person? If you have, then you know that they are really big! You may be surprised since we are so used to seeing miniaturized reproductions on postcards and prints. But stand in front of one for a few minutes and you’ll begin to have your own Rothko experience: it’s as if the dark areas pull you in, and the bright areas shoot you back out. It’s really quite a neat effect of visual weight, as you begin to have this undulating connection with a 2-dimensional, flat object on the wall.
Actually, Rothko intended that the experience be much more encompassing than this. He strove to create the simplest and purest forms that could generate a deeply emotional response akin to the human experience, both tragedy and ecstasy.
“Just as the hues of a sunset prompt feelings of elation mingled with sadness or unease as the dark shapes of night close in, so Rothko’s colors stir mixed feelings of joy, gloom, anxiety or peace. Though the forms in the painting seem simple at first glance, they are in fact subtly complex. Edges fade in and out like memories; horizontal bands of ‘cheerful’ brightness have ‘ominous’ overtones of dark colors”. ~ Dorothy Seiberling, LIFE, 1959