Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Art Before Rothko

By Neena Arndt, Associate Dramaturg

Creation never happens in a vacuum—all artists are influenced by both their life experiences and their artistic predecessors and peers. Mark Rothko, an Abstract Expressionist painter and the central character in Red, maintained acute awareness of those who had wielded paintbrushes in generations past, and often pondered how history would remember him. In Red, playwright John Logan explores Rothko’s view of his forebears and his difficulty in passing the brush to younger artists. In order to understand the play, it’s helpful to have a sense of the artistic innovation that took place a generation before Rothko and his peers took the art world by storm. You could read an art history textbook, or you could read up on two of the early twentieth century’s most intrepid artists in limerick form:

There once was an artist from Spain
Who, in painting, used only one plane—
Female forms from all angles,
Flat, sharp-edged, and tangled—
And the century was off with a bang.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, Pablo Picasso

Around the same time was a fellow
Who always used bright red and yellow.
Bold colors showed his emotion,
And stirred up commotion—
“He’s a beast!” his critics bellowed.

The Open Window, 1905, Henri Matisse

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