The Decisive Decade features essays by Todd Herman, Christopher Rothko (the artist's son), David Anfam, Ruth Fine, and Harry Cooper. The essence of the book is how and why, during the course of a single decade, did Marcus Rothkowitz, painter of the figurative work below...
|Mark Rothko, Untitled (Man and Two Women in a Pastoral Setting), 1940 - source|
|Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1950 - source|
Setting up the so-called decisive decade, Rothko was influenced by modernist painters Max Weber and Milton Avery who directed him down a path away from realism. Through them and his like-minded contemporaries Rothko developed the techniques to express perspective through patterns, depth via color, emotions via distortion - all within a figurative style.
At the beginning of the 1940s, Rothko took a year off from painting to study philosophy and to write his essay The Artist's Reality: Philosophy of Art. In it he makes the case that art must capture the essence of what it means to be human. Very much influenced by Nietzsche and his Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, Rothko strives to find an ability to express in painting something equivalent to Greek tragedy and to raise painting to the level of music for pathos.
Not surprisingly then, Rothko begins the decade painting in a Surreliast, myth-based style. He was strongly influenced by Jung and the ability to express emotion through common, subconscious archetypes. Omen of the Eagle, 1942 (below) draws from the tale of Agamemnon with all its elements distilled into a single image.
|Mark Rothko, Omen of the Eagle, 1942 - source|
|Mark Rothko, Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea, 1944 - source|
|Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1947 - source|
|Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1949 - source|
Any fan of Rothko will want to read the Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950 - it's that interesting and insightful. Of course, the trick will be to get to a gallery and see the exhibit. In the meantime, I suppose I'll have to get out my copy of The Artist's Reality and read it again.