Behind the Curtain

Official Blog of International City Theatre

Rothko – The Subject Of & Inspiration for Red

July 25th, 2013

Credit: New York Observer

Credit: New York Observer

ICT patrons have known for a year now that we are producing the 2010 Tony Winner for Best Play, Red, by John Logan. Some know it is about Mark Rothko. Mr. Rothko has had quite a cultural impact in our country and abroad.

Born Marcus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz in 1903 in the Russian Empire (now Latvia), he emigrated to America in 1913 with his family to escape being drafted into the Imperial Russian Army and anti-Semitism. He grew up in Oregon and then attended Yale University on scholarship. He dropped out after his sophomore year and moved to New York.

Upon visiting a friend at an art school, his love for art began to foster and he began to take classes at various art schools in the city. After being part of numerous art shows in the city, his reputation began to grow and he was able to live off the sales of his paintings.

“Orange, Red, Yellow” by Mark Rothko Credit:

Characterized as an abstract expressionist (a label he hated), his work was inspired by WWII and Nietzsche and could be identified by large rectangular fields of color. His rise in prominence lead to what is the source of the plot for Red, a commission by beverage company Joseph Seagram & Sons to create paintings for their Four Seasons restaurant in their newly designed office building. As a passionate artist, he justifies this huge commission but is later torn between commercialism vs. art (This is where the play Red begins.)

These works, known as the Seagram Murals, now hang in three places: London’s Tate Museum, Japan’s Kawamura Memorial Museum, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Struggling with failing health and depression, Rothko committed suicide in 1970 the same day his Seagram Murals paintings arrived in London at the Tate Museum.

His popularity and influence have skyrocketed since his passing. A book published in 1998 cataloged all 838 of his paintings. His work has broken the record three times for nominal-value of a post-war painting at a public auction, capped in 2012 for Orange, Red, Yellow, which sold for $86.9 million.

Mark Rothko once said this of art, “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world.”

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