The artist Mark Rothko (1903–1970) was born in Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia) as Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz. He was of Lithuanian Jewish descent, emigrated to the USA in 1913, and from 1925 lived and worked in New York until he committed suicide in February,1970. His life was dramatic, immigrating at such a young age, having to deal with antisemitism and poverty in early life.
Seeing these works, shown as the artist intended, in reduced light and in a compact space, is very special. The subtlety of the layered surfaces slowly emerges, revealing their solemn and meditative character. Mark Rothko saw these paintings as objects of contemplation, demanding the viewer’s complete absorption.
It is always an overwhelming and intense emotional experience to be surrounded by his works. The paintings absorb me and take me into a world with another dimension. They are formidable, firm, real, yet the way the colours merge with each other and the surroundings, not just the walls, ceiling or floor, but with the atmosphere of the space seems to transform this room into something indescribable.
My first experience seeing Rothko’s works was at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. More recently at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, the Netherlands, I saw a Rothko painting exhibited in a special dark room set up just for this. In this room just one or two people at a time could enter with a time limit.
The photos I made at Tate Modern don’t quite match the experience, as I could not reproduce the dark atmosphere. With so many visitors at the Tate, it was difficult to find a moment when you are alone. It is interesting to think about how much his paintings were influenced by his visits to Pompei and Florence.