September 25, 2014
MARK ROTHKO (Marcus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz, 1903–70) died even more famously than he lived, a suicide whose absence draws more notice than the hazy distance from which he cried for help. His hovering, misty blocks of color, mystical to him, were the blurred edges at the extent of what geometric abstraction could mean, the drop-off at the end of flat worlds. These sublime, eerie miasmas, like the setting of pale, square suns, were an impulse to blow the ghost back into the machine, and — because they were created in ephemeral mixes of media not assured to stay solid, or hold their color (though he must have thought it would outlast him) — his conservators have since tried to keep them from floating back out of this world. Perhaps they shouldn’t try. Rothko and his contemporaries grazed canvases with fragile natural materials on their way to reunite with the elements, or finite industrial pigments that would crack and peel away like the façade of consumer culture in its zenith — a waning age taking its surfaces, the record of its self-image, with it. We’re thankful for what still hovers in our vision, but Rothko was, even as he conjured it, painting the portrait of everything our eyes always miss.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Hardboiled (1894-1903) and Partisan (1904-13) Generations.