33 cm x 48 cm (13 in. x 18 7/8 in.)
(Dvinsk, Russia, 1903 - 1970, New York)
North America, American
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Michener Acquisitions Fund, 1969
The sudden influx of European artists into the United States in the wake of the Spanish Civil War and World War II changed the face of American abstraction. The arrival in New York of several prominent Surrealists was particularly instrumental in shifting the focus of many American abstractionists away from a rigid attention to structure toward the creation of more organic and spontaneous compositions. Artists such as Arshile Gorky and Mark Rothko explored the automatic painting techniques favored by Surrealists, and used them to express their own unique visions.
Mark Rothko adopted automatism in the early 1940s. Unlike Gorky, who primarily used free association to express personal psychological drama, Rothko employed the technique to convey a sense of the mythic. The various elements of the biomorphic imagery in his early paintings are meant to manifest universal and timeless themes. The mysterious organic forms suggest a primal world in the process of metamorphosis. The artist’s use of irrational instincts as sources for art and his determination to evoke the spirit of myth in this early work foreshadow his more well-known abstract expressionist paintings of the postwar period.