Behind the scenes at Orlando Shakespeare Theater

Nothing Comes Between a Man and his Canvas

Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse — all famous artists from recent memory.

While Mark Rothko may not be an artist most are familiar with, his work has stood the test of time. The play Red centers around this influential man, so here is some insight on the man behind the canvas:

Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkovich in Dvinsk, Russia (in what is now Latvia) in 1903. The town discriminated against Jews, so Mark’s family moved to Portland, Oregon. A few months after that transition, Mark’s father died suddenly – forcing the family to fight off economic poverty on their own. Despite his shortcomings, Mark graduated high school early and attended Yale University. Following his second year at Yale, he dropped out due to his ill perception of the college. He claimed that racism and exclusivity ran rampant in those hallowed halls.

Rothko packed up his bags and hit up the Big Apple where he had his first solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in 1933. Rothko’s early work blended Expressionism and Surrealism in his landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. He started to develop a more primitive style of art with mythological content with simple, flat shapes in the 1940s. In 1947 and 1949, Rothko taught at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. At the peak of his artistic maturity, Rothko adapted a “multiform” style in which he utilized blurred rectangles with numerous shades of color. This breathed new life into his art and he stuck with this form for the rest of his days.

The commission of Rothko’s artwork for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City in 1958 was his first big break in the artist arena (Red focuses on this span of time). This entire process presented a steep challenge for Rothko: not only did he have to create a large series of harmonizing paintings, but he had to adapt his renderings to the vertical walls, columns, and windows of a specific space. Over the course of 3 months, he composed a total of 40 paintings all with coordinating hues of dark browns and reds.

After other notable showings and commissions at The Museum of Modern Art, Harvard University, and an interdenominational chapel in Houston (later named the Rothko Chapel), Mark Rothko was diagnosed with a mild aortic aneurysm in 1968. He ignored his doctor’s orders and continued to smoke and drink heavily, as well as avoiding exercise and a healthy diet. On February 25th, 1970, Rothko was found dead. He had slit his wrists and overdosed on anti-depressants.

Mark Rothko led a bold and interesting life – a brilliant artist whose life story ended tragically. What went on in his head? Why was he the way that he was? Join us for our production of Red and maybe you’ll get those answers.

Love and Shakespeare,
A’riel T.
Marketing Intern, Orlando Shakespeare Theater


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