John McEwan

A Painter Writes

The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art

By

Yale University Press 136pp £16.95 order from our bookshop

As Christopher Rothko, son of the famous painter, writes in his introduction, this book has a long and mysterious history. Mark Rothko wrote these somewhat random and, until now, unpublished reflections in his late thirties. They are the product of a difficult time. He was struggling to make a living and to find his identity as a painter. Also his first marriage was breaking up, the relationship not helped by his wife’s discouraging his painting and putting him to work in her jewellery-design buiness. They separated for a while and divorced in 1943. It may have been during the separation that Rothko gave up painting to read mythic history and philosophy, continuing to try to find his way as an artist by putting his thoughts into words. The crisis over, he resumed painting – no doubt spurred by the abstinence of his retreat into soul-searching – and the typescript was put away, the cathartic job done. It then disappeared among his papers, its ‘Joss’ becoming something of a legend when he became famous in old age and especially after his suicide in 1970.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,