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 Mark Rothko wrote these somewhat random and, until now, unpublished reflections in his late thirties.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.

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