A short biography of Latvian-born abstract expressionist artist and anarchist, Mark Rothko.
Born Marcus Rothkowitz, 25 September 1903 - Russia, died 25 February 1970 - New York, USA
Marcus Rothkowitz was born to Jewish parents in Czarist Russia on
September 25, 1903 in Dvinsk. His father emigrated to America when he
Having decided to become an artist, he started out painting
representational pictures in the Expressionist manner, rendering the
drama of contemporary existence in a faceless metropolis. His art then
grew freer, in Surrealist-influenced compositions that focus on mythic
and biomorphic figures. Finally, in the years between 1949 and his
suicide in 1970, he jettisoned representational art altogether and
worked solely on the luminous fields – mostly in red and black - for
which he became famous.
He spoke four languages- Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, and English, and experienced many cultures which greatly enriched his art.
Dvinsk was a solidly working-class, largely Jewish town of about
100,000. In response to the massive growth in revolutionary ideas, the
Czarist authorities bloodily repressed workers – especially Jews – and
attacked demonstrations, jailed militants and carried out pogroms.
His father managed to emigrate with Marcus in 1913 where he was soon
joined by his family, but died in 1914 in Portland. Portland at the
time was the epicentre of revolutionary activity in the US at the time,
and the area where the revolutionary syndicalist union the Industrial
Workers of the World, was strongest.
Marcus, having grown up around radical workers' meetings, attended
meetings of the IWW and with other anarchists like Bill Haywood and
Emma Goldman, where he developed strong oratorical skills he would
later use in defence of Surrealism. With the onset of the Russian
Revolution, Rothko organised debates about it in an atmosphere of
extreme repression and wished to become a union organiser.
Later in life with the death of the Russian Revolution, the
destruction of the Spanish Revolution by Communists and Fascists, and
the rise of the Nazis Rothko became disillusioned as to whether there
was any hope for social change. But he claimed "I am still an
He became a painter when he joined Yale university, and changed his name to the Westernised Mark Rothko in 1938.
After building up a considerable body of work, he slit his wrists in
1970, after suffering extreme depression and many years of alcohol
An archive of Rothko's work is available online at artchive.com here: