One of the more important figures in 20th century abstract art is Mark Rothko. Drawn to the field of art in 1923, Rothko’s early instruction was influenced by the avant-garde movement, particularly in the person of his mentor, Max Weber. Rothko would go on to become one of the pre-eminent creators of his generation. He drove abstract painting toward more impassioned forms.
Rothko stepped into Modernism and settled in to his artistic pursuits in New York. He took to the studies of the trends of modern art. His early works, from the late 1920s displayed moody urban scenes and interiors shaped by expressionism which gained favorable acceptance among art critics. As he continued to work, the influence of Jungian though on imagery took root and his own work turned to mythological subjects, becoming touched by many of the same outlooks as those demonstrated by the Surrealists.
Moving Toward Abstraction
In the 1930s, Rothko began stretching his consideration of artistic impulse. Where others were drawn toward the primitive stylizations that many likened to that of the drawings of children, Rothko was drawn toward thinking about color. He had begun a book about art (never finished), and in it he observed, “We start with color.”
By the advent of the 1940s, Rothko had left representational art, even surrealism, behind himself. He gave himself over to studying the elements of color and its effect on shape and balance in composition. But where some artists moved toward focusing entirely on perfection of technique without reference to subject, Rothko came to conclude that there was no such thing as good painting about nothing.
As he came to focus more on his studies of color fields and shapes, Rothko became disinclined to give titles to his pieces. The point was to explore the emotive power of colors, without the distraction of figures. The later works for which Rothko is better known grew out of his early color field pieces.
Extending Beyond Rothko
Use of color in other abstract works can guide the novice viewer toward a better understanding of the art. In the work of Diana Hobson, she dwells upon the energy of her ideas, which are frequently communicated in the titles she gives pieces.
In “Don’t Waste It”, the mixed blues of the background are overset by the brownish rectangular form angling across the canvas. In the foreground over that shape, a vibrant yellow swoop rises from lower left toward upper right. This is also contrasted with a reddish column rising on the right-hand side. The boldness of the composition counteracts the usual stillness associated with blue colors.
Many of Diana Hobson’s works are available to be seen in her Venice studio on Abbot Kinney. It’s possible to arrange to see more of her works there in person.
“Archaic Idol”, by Mark Rothko, 1945. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Joan and Lester Avnet Collection. Image used here under Fair Use Practices for instruction and information.
“No. 9” by Mark Rothko, 1948. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image used here under Fair Use Practices for instruction and information.
“Don’t Waste It”, by Diana Hobson, 1987. Copyright Diana Hobson. Used by permission.