Cursing God: Mark Rothko

Andréa Fernandes

Today marks the 105th anniversary of the birth of Mark Rothko (1903-1970), a Latvian-American artist who believed "pictures must be miraculous." In honor of Rothko, and at the request of reader nikki, today we'll take a look at Rothko's life and art. (Shown above is his 1938 "Entrance to Subway," part of his Subway Scenes series.)

1. Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz to a highly-educated family fluent in Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew. At the age of 10, Rothko left Russian-controlled Latvia with his family to settle in Portlan, Oregon. He didn't become a citizen until 1938, though, when he became worried about the growing Nazi influence in Europe. Two years later, he shortened his name to Mark Rothko.

2. Rothko attended Yale on a scholarship, but dropped out during his sophomore year. While he was there, though, he started the satirical magazine The Yale Saturday Evening Pest with his friend Aaron Director. While he never completed his undergraduate program, Rothko returned to Yale in 1969 to receive an honorary doctoral degree.

3. Pop Art became popular in the "˜60s, but Rothko was no fan of the new movement. He believed Pop Art artists were "charlatans and young opportunists," and mused aloud at a Pop Art exhibition, "Are the young artists plotting to kill us all?" Rothko wasn't a fan of art critics, either, going so far as to say, "I hate and distrust all art historians, experts, and critics. They are a bunch of parasites, feeding on the body of art. Their work not only is useless, it is misleading. They can say nothing worth listening to about art or the artist, aside from personal gossip, which I grant you can sometimes be interesting."

4. Though he's often called an abstract painter, Rothko himself begged to differ: "I am not an abstract painter. I am not interested in the relationship between form and color. The only thing I care about is the expression of man's basic emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, destiny."

5. Rothko, who had once said, "I curse God daily because men are born to die," took his own life on February 25, 1970. He was discovered in his kitchen by his assistant. He had slashed his arms above the elbow with a razor, and had also overdosed on antidepressants.

A somewhat larger version of "Entrance to Subway" is available here. Fans should check out the Rothko Chapel and Simon Schama's Power of Art video on Mark Rothko. Current Exhibition:Rothko (London, England: September 26, 2008, through February 1, 2009) "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with artist suggestions or details of current exhibitions.