Red on Maroon

7:00 AM

Mark Rothko, Red on Maroon, 1959

There are plenty of Mark Rothko’s pieces that I enjoy looking at, but there is one that made me feel the emotion that Rothko hoped his audience would feel. Red on Maroon, one of the murals originally destined for the Seagram building, doesn’t fit in a restaurant. I would honestly lose my appetite eating a fancy feel across from it.

Red is a warm color; it makes one think of warm things, often bringing comfort. On the contrary, when I see this painting under the dim lights of the Tate Gallery, I think back to my experiences in Poland this past summer. The red square seems to glow like the fires in the ovens in which Jews burned. The red could also symbolize the blood of the Jews or the vivid color surrounding the Nazi swastika on the flag. All of these images evoke the same gut-wrenching feeling. Rothko, a Jew, immigrated to America at a young age. His hometown in Russia once had a lively Jewish culture, but the Nazis eradicated the Jews of Latvia. In his Power of Art, Simon Schama said that Rothko asked a German to build a memorial for the Holocaust and in return he would give him a painting for free, but the German turned this offer down. Rothko obviously felt the pain of his people and wanted to use his work to bring light to the horrible events that took place in Europe during WWII.

Rothko experienced anti-Semitism first-hand at Yale University. Yale had a cap on how many Jews it would accept. Furthermore, many clubs and fraternities did not accept Jews. Rothko eventually dropped out of Yale and feeling unwelcome. Rothko expresses this feeling unwelcome in many of his paintings. In this painting, I imagine Rothko showing how Jews were unwelcome in Germany and throughout the world. Even today, Jews throughout the world experience Anti-Semitism just like Rothko did.

In the play Red, Rothko doesn’t want the black to swallow all of the red. Despite the fact that this painting is only red, I feel that the black is looming over the painting because of the raw emotions felt when looking at it. Similarly, Rothko always felt the black looming over him, until it swallowed him up in 1970.

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