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Date: 1962
Artist: Mark Rothko, American, born Russia, 1903 - 1970
Medium:Oil on canvas
Geographic Location:
Dimensions: Overall: 93 1/8 x 80 1/8 in. (2 m 36.538 cm x 2 m 3.52 cm)
Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Algur H. Meadows and the Meadows Foundation, Incorporated
Object Number: 1968.9

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Painter Mark Rothko said, “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.” In Orange, Red and Red two vast rectangular forms fill a nearly eight-foot-tall canvas. The subtle tonal variations within each form contribute to the painting’s depth and sense of movement and vitality. This Mark Rothko painting, like most of his paintings by the late 1940s, is intended to evoke intense human emotion.
 
Orange, Red and Red is characteristic of Rothko’s signature style: large-scale canvases of one or two softly edged rectangular forms, in which the simple elements of painting—color, form, and scale—become the subject.
 
 
 
Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
 
Marcus Rothkowitz (Mark Rothko) was born in Russia in 1903. At ten years old, Rothko, his mother, and his older sister immigrated to Portland, Oregon. Rothko attended Yale University on a full scholarship, but left after two years for New York, where he received his only formal art training at the Art Students League. There, he was introduced to early European modernism and artists such as Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, and the German Expressionists.
 
In 1933 he experienced his first solo show. Around this time, Rothko, along with others, founded the Ten, a group of artists who encouraged abstraction and expressionism. During the Depression years, many artists, including Rothko, participated in the federal Works Progress Administration’s easel project as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Rothko began painting in his signature style in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Characteristic of this style were large-scale canvases of one or two softly edged rectangular forms. Rothko preferred his paintings to be exhibited in groups, and he received a major commission in 1958 for a group of paintings for the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York. While Rothko chose not to complete the commission, he did complete commissions for groups of paintings from Harvard University in 1962 and an interdenominational chapel in Houston in 1964. Rothko committed suicide in 1970.
 
Rothko's Painting Style and Techniques
 
Much of Rothko’s work beginning in the late 1940s is characterized by large, colorful forms whose soft and glowing edges fill wall-scale canvases. The forms become more rectangular by 1950. These rectangles are carefully painted with subtle tonal variations. While Rothko’s signature paintings lack representational forms, the juxtaposed colors are intended to radiate, interact, and evoke emotion.
 
Rothko propped his canvases on easels to paint them. His techniques for applying paint were specific and thoughtful. He worked in layers, applying many thin layers of paint on unprimed canvas to create a dense, saturated surface rich with variations in tone. He sometimes used sponges and cloth to apply layers, in order to prevent visible brushstrokes. This approach often created a stained effect. He wanted his paint to dry as quickly so that he could more efficiently add more layers. Sometimes he mixed his own paint, using unconventional materials, such as egg and glue, acrylic resins, phenol formaldehyde, and modified alkyd.
 
With its vibrant rectangular forms and soft edges, Orange, Red and Red exemplifies the work Rothko was creating from the 1950s until the end of his career.
 
Abstract Expressionism
 
Though he strongly denied it, Rothko is closely associated with abstract expressionism, the first avant-garde art movement to originate in the United States. The term refers to the work of artists who responded to World War II through large-scale, non-representational paintings. The experience and artistic styles of the abstract expressionists varied greatly, but they all believed that they could directly express emotional and spiritual realities through painting. Each artist in his or her own way explored the use of color, line, and abstract shapes in order to find new, more direct ways to express the energy and confidence as well as the anxiety of the post war world.
 
The abstract expressionists were often interested in two ideas: 1) painting as an impulsive physical process intended to capture an emotional response or 2) creating tension and evoking emotion through the color relationships in a painting. Artists such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline were interested in the former, while artists like Clyfford Still and Rothko are associated with the latter.
 
Additionally, many of these artists believed that the subconscious could be a source of abstract images and marks that would be universally understood. Through dreams and the process of automatism (an intuitive or spontaneous method of drawing or painting), they sought to probe beneath the rational, conscious mind and find a new visual language that would unify the modern world because all could understand it. They believed in the power of abstract art to directly communicate profound spiritual and philosophical truths. Based primarily in New York, artists associated with abstract expressionism are sometimes called the New York School.
 
Rothko Chapel
 
The Rothko Chapel is an interfaith sanctuary in Houston, Texas, that functions as a chapel, an art museum, and a forum. In 1964 Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil commissioned Mark Rothko to create fourteen paintings to hang in their chapel, intended to be a meditative, introspective space. They also invited Rothko to work closely with the architects and builders to help shape the space that would house this body of work.
 
Rothko worked on the commission for over two years. In his New York studio, he built mock walls the size of the chapel’s walls and created a pulley system to experiment with the arrangement of the canvases. The finished group of paintings includes seven deep purple paintings and seven paintings of black rectangular forms over maroon. Unfortunately, Rothko died before visiting the finished chapel.

The Rothko Chapel
Visit the Rothko Chapel website.
 
 
Red, The Play
 
Written in 2009 by American writer John Logan, Red is a two-actor play about Mark Rothko and an enormous commission from the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York. Red, which takes place entirely within Rothko’s studio, features only two characters: Rothko and Ken. Ken is a fictional character who might possibly represent an amalgamation of Rothko’s studio assistants, and the storyline is based on the events surrounding a real commission Rothko received in 1958.
 
The commission involved the creation of a series of canvases to cover the walls of the Four Seasons Restaurant. While Rothko preferred to display his work in groups, and the Seagram commission was theoretically the perfect opportunity for Rothko to create an environment for his work to be displayed, the play focuses on Rothko questioning the integrity of the project. During the play, Ken increasingly probes and questions Rothko about his intentions for his Seagram paintings as well as his theories on art.
 
To experience the play, audience members must walk directly into a re-creation of Rothko’s studio—the play’s set—and sit around all four walls along its perimeter. Rothko intended viewers of his work to be completely immersed in his paintings. Reflecting that intention, viewers of Red must be completely immersed in the play, literally sitting in the set among the actors.

Pittsburgh Public Theater: Red Resource Guide
This guide includes background information, insight, and discussion questions related to the play.
 
Fact, Fiction, and Interpretation: Conversations About Red
Listen to Rothko’s daughter, a theater director, and a university professor discuss the biographical truths and fictions about the play Red
 
The Works Progress Administration for Artists
 
The Works Progress Administration, or WPA, was a comprehensive national job-building initiative from 1935 until 1943 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The WPA hired and provided economic relief for millions of Americans who had previously been unemployed. During its eight years, the WPA provided jobs to a half million people.
 
The Federal Art Project (FAP)—a subdivision of the WPA—supported artists by creating jobs for painters, sculptors, muralists, graphic artists, and other artists with varied backgrounds and experiences. The FAP funded the creation of over 100,000 paintings and murals and over 18,000 sculptures to enliven public buildings across the country. Additionally, nearly one hundred community art centers were built to provide art classes for children and artists. Not only did these art projects provide economic relief for many artists, but they brought thousands of works of visual art to Americans, facilitating a new appreciation for art among the American public.
Rothko participated in the FAP’s easel division, which urged artists to explore America as a subject for artworks. Many artists—such as Rothko—who later became the forerunners of abstract expressionism, developed as professional artists through the FAP.

Library of Congress: Federal Art Project
Learn about the WPA and explore the posters and art projects created through the FAP.
 

 

 
 
Encouraging Dialogue
 
1. Describe exactly what you see when you look at this painting. Record all you can about the colors, shapes, and lines. Think of fifteen adjectives to describe this painting. Imagine that the orange and red shapes were set at a vertical or a diagonal. Consider how this change in orientation might affect your experience of looking at this painting.

2. Midway through his career, Rothko began making his paintings very large. Orange, Red and Red is almost eight feet tall. Imagine this painting is only one foot tall. How would this change the painting's impact?

3. Rothko said, "Painting a small painting means placing oneself outside the experience. When we paint a large painting, we are in it." Imagine you are inside this large painting. What do you see around you? How do you feel?

4. Often when we look at a work of art, some parts look like “figures,” while other parts look like “background.” This concept is called the figure-ground relationship. This relationship can be perplexing when we look at abstract art. Discuss the “figure” and the “background” of Orange, Red and Red.
 
Making Connections
 
1. Rothko once said, “I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers.” Write a play with the characters from Orange, Red and Red. First, define the characters. What are these colors' personalities like? What kinds of people are they? What do they look like? How do they behave? Act out some of the colors. Can your classmates guess which color you are?
 
2a. Rothko was interested in expressing emotion through the relationships of adjacent colors in his paintings. Think about how adjacent colors can evoke particular emotions. Using paint chips from a hardware store, or markers or colored pencils, experiment with color relationships. Choose a pair of colors that represent happiness to you. Choose a pair of colors that represent fear, sorrow, and or excitement. What other emotions can you evoke with your color juxtapositions?
 
2b. Consider Rothko’s intention to evoke emotion and your experimentation from part 2a. Stand in front of Orange, Red and Red for at least ten minutes and translate your experience with this painting into words and sentences. In a personal essay, describe how it feels to look at and engage with Orange, Red and Red. What are you thinking about as you look at it? What human emotion might you associate with its visual qualities?
 
3. Pair up with a classmate and view Rothko’s Untitled (1952). Have a conversation about the similarities and differences between Untitled and Orange, Red and Red. Organize your ideas with an essay, sketches, or a Venn diagram.
 
4. Revisit question #2 from the Encouraging Dialogue section. Create a travel brochure with text and images for the place that you describe inside the Rothko painting. Be sure to include a description of the scenery, the locals who live there, the weather, popular tourist attractions, etc.
  

 

 
Books

Reference Books:
Breslin, James. Mark Rothko: A Biography. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.
 
Chave, Anna, and Mark Rothko. Mark Rothko: Subjects in Abstraction. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
 
Dore, Ashton. About Rothko. New York: Oxford University Press,1983.
 
Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Director. Art of Our Century: The Chronicle of Western Art 1900 to the  Present. New York: Prentice Hall Editions, 1989.
 
Nodelman, Sheldon. The Rothko Chapel Paintings: Origins, Structure, Meaning. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997.
 
Pitman, Bonnie, ed. Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2012.
 
Books for Students:
Saxton, Jo. Snail Trail: In Search of a Modern Masterpiece. London: Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2010.
 
Dr. Seuss. My Many Colored Days. New York: Random House Children's Books, 1996.
 
Websites
 
National Gallery of Art: Mark Rothko
Explore this mini-site for information about the art of Mark Rothko.
 
MoMA: Mark Rothko
Browse through information and multimedia about the art of Mark Rothko.
 
Albright-Knox Art Gallery: Mark Rothko
Visit this website, which includes biographical information, audio, and a lesson plan related to one of Rothko’s signature paintings.
 
SmartHistory: Mark Rothko
Listen to scholars analyze two Mark Rothko paintings.
 
Pace Gallery: Rothko Artist Page
Explore the life and art of Mark Rothko.
 
Simon Schama’s Power of Art (BBC)
Watch an excerpt of an episode on Mark Rothko.
 
National Gallery of Art – Mark Rothko: Seagram Murals
Learn more about Rothko’s commission from the Four Seasons Restaurant.
 
The Phillips Collection: The Rothko Room
Read about the Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
 
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Abstract Expressionism
Research Rothko and other abstract expressionists.
 
Interactives

Whitney Museum of American Art: For Kids
Explore the art of Mark Rothko on the Whitney’s website for kids.