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"I'm not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on... The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience as I had when I painted them."
- Mark Rothko
In the late 1940s and '50s, Mark Rothko (1903-70) was one of the leading American artists who created wall-scale abstract paintings that filled the viewer's field of vision and became a form of environment. Rothko spoke of wanting the spectator to feel inside the pictorial space, enveloped in his canvases' luminous color and apparitional surfaces. Together with painters such as Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still, he wanted to express a sense of the sublime, an idea associated with religious awe, vastness and natural magnificence.
Filmed on both sides of the Atlantic, this documentary chronicling Rothko's life and charting the development of his work fills the screen with his softly defined, rectangular clouds of color stacked symmetrically on top of one another: a visual language conceived to evoke elemental emotions with maximum poignancy. There are penetrating contributions from his daughter, Kate, and his son, Christopher, and comments from a wide range of friends, artists, art historians, collectors and curators.
The focus is on Rothko's demands for the perfect setting for the showing of his work, an ideal he pursued throughout his creative life, typified by the story of his iconic Seagram murals, nine of which now hang in a dedicated room at London's newly-opened Tate Modern. One of the murals' commissioners, architect Philip Johnson, is among those who explain why Rothko refused to allow these works to hang in their intended venue, the exclusive Four Seasons restaurant in New York.