Famous Friday // Red, Orange, Orange on Red

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Mark Rothko, Red, Orange, Orange on Red, oil on canvas, 1962. Location: St. Louis Art Museum.

During the spring semester of my sophomore year, I took my very first art history class. As the semester was coming to a close, we began discussing modern and contemporary art. One day of class was entirely devoted to what appeared to be the professor’s favorite artists – Mark Rothko. Viewing for the first time on a smart board, Rothko’s work appeared to be a haphazard painting of rectangles in a similar color palette. The professor, however, felt much different about this work. He gave us a short anecdote about how the first time he saw a Rothko in person. He was apparently so moved that he couldn’t help but tear up in the museum. Unbeknownst to me at the time, moving viewers to tears was sometimes the goal of Rothko’s artistic vision.

Rothko moved through a variety of different styles that were influenced by abstract expressionism and specifically color field painting. Color field painting, coined by Clement Greenberg, was a trend within abstract expressionism which disregarded the need for figures. Instead, the movement, pioneered by Rothko, took advantages of large swatches of color which was used to envelop the viewer in a world of color.

In Rothko’s work owned by SLAM, the red and orange layers are brought together to mimic sunset for the viewer. Rothko believed in using simplistic forms, like rectangles, in order to convey human emotion. 

MoMA Rothko Essay

SLAM Collection Entry

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