Introduction | Early Works | Transitional Works | Classic Works | Exhibition Information

Every shape becomes an organic entity, inviting the multiplicity of associations inherent in all living things.

–Mark Rothko

image: Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1941/1942image: Mark Rothko, The Source, 1945/1946image: Mark Rothko, Aquatic Drama, 1946image: Mark Rothko, No. 9, 1948

Transitional Works: 1940s

Rothko wanted his art to express the tragedy of the human condition: "A time came," he said, "when none of us could use the figure without mutilating it." Around 1940 the artist began to explore Greco-Roman myths in a series of paintings characterized by the radical fragmentation of the human figure, with multiple repetitions of forms set within segmented areas of the plane, such as in Untitled. As the decade progressed, his imagery became increasingly symbolic and moved further toward abstraction, seen in his transition to biomorphic paintings such as The Source and Aquatic Drama. These are part of a large body of works on paper and canvas inspired by surrealism.

By 1947 Rothko had virtually eliminated all representational imagery in his paintings, and nonobjective compositions of loosely defined color-shapes, called "multiforms," emerged. The period of the multiforms, exemplified by a work such as No. 9, lasted from 1947 to 1949 and was one of rapid change. The orientation and shape of Rothko's canvases, the forms he created on them, and the color range he employed paved the way for the compositionally spare, exceedingly complex surfaces of his classic style.

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