- Paperback: 764 pages
- Publisher: The University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226074064
- ISBN-13: 978-0226074061
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #413,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mark Rothko: A Biography Reprint Edition
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"I became a painter because I wanted to raise painting to the level of poignancy of music and poetry." Born Marcus Rothkowitz in a small Russian town, Mark Rothko immigrated to Portland, Oregon, in 1913, when he was 10 years old. "You don't know what it is to be a Jewish kid dressed in a suit that is a Dvinsk, not an American, idea of a suit traveling across America and not able to speak English," he later told fellow abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell. Rothko was a weak child, an abandoned son (his father had gone to America in 1910 and died of cancer just seven months after the family was reunited), a Jew excluded from high school clubs, a Yale freshman on scholarship, and a college dropout determined to become an Artist with a capital A. James Breslin has written an exhaustive biography of the painter. He pulled together all the facts of Rothko's life and carefully examined all the strata of the artist's personality--Rothko's sensitivity, his sense of displacement, his pride and his diffidence, his combativeness, his love for his children, his hatred for Marlborough Gallery director Frank Lloyd, and his difficulties with money. The book is flawed only by Breslin's ticlike use of italics, which give the sense of the author tugging at our sleeve in an unnecessary effort to persuade: "Rothko's last and most severe renunciations were made not to remove obstacles between the observer and the idea but in a gesture of personal withdrawal." But this is a relatively minor trifle that does not unduly detract from this large--and large-spirited--book about a tormented, brilliant Artist. --Peggy Moorman
From Publishers Weekly
A hefty, bear-like man with voracious appetites, an alcoholic who withdrew into isolation and took his own life, Mark Rothko (1903-1970) made paintings that transformed despair into transcendent beauty. Breslin's biography, a splendid achievement, exorcises Rothko's private demons and explores how he invented a modern art which enacted his inner drama. Born Marcus Rothkowitz in Russia, raised in Portland, Oregon, from age 10, the painter launched an iconoclastic underground newspaper at Yale, became a "self-made proletarian" in the Depression, and progressed from expressionist urban moodscapes to surreal mythic pictures to the free-floating stacked rectangles that are his trademark. A melancholy man who never felt fully at home in his adopted country, Rothko festered with indignation as an outsider, but once he achieved fame and insider status, he felt corrupted and doomed by it, according to Breslin, a UC-Berkeley Enlgish professor and biographer of William Carlos Williams. Illustrated.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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All these reviews are right, except for the idea Rothko is an impressionist. Crazy. (Repeated in one of the reviews of the Dore Ashton book!) Also Rothko himself recommended viewing his paintings from up very close rather than at a distance as someone else says here.
There's a LOT of analysis of Rothko's psychology and his work here. One reviewer calls this "mumbo jumbo." I found it often very revealing. "Small pictures place us back in the world of separate objects and distanced relations. Large pictures sweep us up and place us INSIDE a fluid space of shifting, indefinite boundaries." (Page 280 of the paperback. Rothko's recommendation--"in his provocateur mode"--to view his paintings from a distance of "eighteen inches" is on the next page.)
I read my share of biographies, and this has its own voice. It's personal. (I don't just mean the Afterword, which is a nice mix of concrete details and abstract rumination on the craft of biography.) For example, there may be a couple of dozen instances in the book where Breslin inserts an aside in quotes, often quoting himself--a quip made earlier in the book. If there's an emoticon for eye-rolling, it would go here. It's sort of cute and intimate, and--what is the word I'm looking for? Amateurish? But in a very winning way.
Once in awhile I found my self thinking Breslin's editor could have cut this volume back by a large percentage. But it's the same with Caro's LBJ, at least the 1958-64 book (which is the only one I've read). I mean the thickness of detail is essential to the experience.
Caro's detailing is jaw-dropping. You would never say that with this book. But that's just the subject matter. Instead of knowing which stairway in which hotel Bobby Kennedy ran up and down at some point during the 1960 Democratic presidential convention, to engineer his brother's nomination, with Rothko you're inevitably veering into the implications of the man's very ambiguous impulses and inner life. LBJ was a one-dimensional lunatic. Rothko is a troubled, mixed-up soul. This comes through all the time. One example is Breslin's take on what came to be known as "a Rothko":
"A repeated form gave a restless man with turbulent emotions a pliant stability that freed rather than confined him, and his particular form filled so many of his contradictory needs and desires--to veil and to express his emotions, to be alone and to communicate, to be lofty and intimate, to be sensual and spiritual--that he could not easily abandon or go beyond it."
Did you ever wish you were present at some important time and place in history? Christ's crucifixion? Agincourt? The second Louis-Schmeling fight? How about this moment, at a certain gallery in London, in October of 1961:
"Bryan Robertson, director of the Whitechapel, recalled leaving the gallery with Rothko 'late one winter afternoon, when the daylight had practically gone. He asked me to switch all the lights off, everywhere; and suddenly, Rothko's colour made its own light: the effect, once the retina had adjusted itself, was unforgettable, smoldering and blazing and glowing softly from the walls--colour in the darkness. We stood there a long time and I wished everyone could have seen the world Rothko had made, in those perfect conditions, radiating its own energy and uncorrupted by artifice or the market place.'"
canvases. To know him is to confront his original work
on the wall before you. Find your distance, 10, 15,
maybe 30 feet back. Yet to make sense of his
colored rectangles tearing themselves apart in fission,
as well as his earlier, quite different work, some
Breslin's book will become the standard reference, but
not perhaps the starting point. He writes engrossingly,
but the 558 pages of text, I fear, will discourage the
casual reader (who might do well to read Robert
Hughes's paragraphs in American Visions).
Still, for the motivated reader, James Breslin's bio is
awesome. The Latvian Jew, charity student at
antisemitic Yale in the early 20s, uncomfortable and
smarter than most there, comes alive, as does his love
for children and their art, as well as his tormented
first marriage to a wife commercially successful during
the Great Depression making jewelry that sold. Rothko
had higher ambitions: fine art spelled with a capital
"A". As Breslin relates, discomfort never disappeared.
Success and recognition did not go over well with
this self-described anarchist who, as a Portland
teenager, enthusiastically took in lectures by Emma
Goldman. Overall, Breslin provides a biographical and
historical foundation with which to understand Mark
Rothko's painting. I am grateful for that.
Finally, of the many biographies I've read, James EB
Breslin's stands out for another reason: in his
Afterword, he turns from Rothko to himself and
addresses his own motivations and challenges in writing
the biography. Biographies are never "objective", so it
makes sense that a biographer might address his own
motivations. In the descriptions of the dangers of
doing research in Rothko's birthplace of Dvinsk, in
interviewing art historian Clement Greenberg, Rothko
reappears again, this time indirectly, one step
removed. That Breslin can bring Rothko alive in these
different contexts is testament to the enduring value
of this long, challenging biography.