Mark Rothko's Color Theory

Written by m. kelley
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Mark Rothko's Color Theory

Mark Rothko (1903-70) was a New York abstract expressionist painter and is best known for his Color Field paintings, which are characterised by canvases of solid colour rather than recognisable figurative imagery.


Colour Field painting is typically executed on a large canvas and intended to be viewed close-up, so the viewer is fully immersed in the colour environment.

Mark Rothko's Color Theory
Rothko, White and Greens in Blue, 1953


Rothko's technique is expressive and atmospheric, revealing on close inspection a rich tonal range and subtle colour variation.

Mark Rothko's Color Theory
Rothko, Black on Maroon, 1958


Rothko used colour to convey a range of sensation near to what he termed religious experience. Colour in this sense is the vehicle that transports the viewer to her deepest and most primal emotions.


Rothko's paintings darkened in the late 1950s, as he accentuated the concept of vanishing boundaries, where two colours similar in saturation and value merge seamlessly into one another, as the line between them appears to vanish.


Rothko also began to paint to the edges of his unframed canvases as a means of dissolving final borders in attempt to represent the infinite.

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