No 61 Rust And Blue Analysis Essay

I had a print of this painting in my room when I was a teenager. I used to stare at it at night going to sleep. I think my mother bought it to give the room a splash of color. I didn’t know the whole Rothko mythology then: the romantic/modernist tormented painter who committed suicide. I didn’t know his role in the New York scene of the 1950s. And I wasn’t seduced by the spirituality, what I later saw in the Rothko Chapel. But I remember looking at it and thinking I wanted to do that; I wanted to make surfaces. Later on, after reading about his work and Abstract Expressionism, I remember looking at the painting and feeling nullified by it — how much is not there, no women and no people of color. So it’s perplexing. I don’t buy the romanticism or the idea of channeling an inner life right onto the surface. But I am an abstract painter. I never went through a figurative moment, even as a child.

-- Artist Mark Bradford, as told to Jori Finkel  


Image: Mark Rothko's "No. 61 (Rust and Blue)" [Brown Blue, Brown on Blue], 1953, oil on canvas. Credit: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Panza Collection, © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. [Updated: The image provided by the museum was upside down and appeared that way in a previous version of this post; this is the correct orientation.]

Image Comparisons

Mark Rothko

A prominent Abstract Expressionist, Mark Rothko experimented with several styles before reaching his signature 1950s motif of soft, rectangular forms floating on a field of stained color. Heavily influenced by mythology and philosophy, he remained insistent that his art was filled with content, despite the voids evoked by his pictures. A fierce champion of social revolutionary thought, and the right to self-expression, Rothko also explored his views in numerous essays and critical reviews.

Mark Rothko Artist Page

Comparison #1

Rothko and Friedrich: Contemplating the Void

Mark Rothko
Untitled (Purple, White and Red) (1953)

Casper David Friedrich
Monk by a Sea (1809)

Casper David Friedrich's Monk by a Sea, 1809, shows nothing more than a tiny figure contemplating the seascape, a scene so empty of incident that it bewildered spectators when it was first exhibited. Mark Rothko's Untitled (Purple, White and Red), 1953, is typical of his mature style, depicting rectangular shapes of muted color suspended in space.

Detailed view

Comparison #2

Rothko and Mondrian: Abstraction and Spirituality

Mark Rothko
Untitled (Seagram Mural) 1959

Piet Mondrian
Composition 10, Pier and Ocean (1915)

Piet Mondrian's Composition 10, Pier and Ocean, 1915, brings the Cubist style to the brink of total abstraction, with a view of a pier jutting into the North Sea. Mark Rothko's Untitled (Seagram Mural), 1959, inspires thoughts of the spirit by similar means, stripping the picture of direct references to the outside world.

Detailed view

Comparison #3

Rothko and Titian: Color and Spirituality

Mark Rothko
No. 61: Rust and Blue (1953)

Noli me tangere (1511-12)

Rothko's No. 61: Rust and Blue (1953) uses layered color to enrich the hues in the painting and to lend it a quality that the artist described as that of "inner light." Titian's Noli me tangere (Do not touch me) (1511-12) takes a similar approach to color in order to lend a rich luminosity to the surface, one which will complement the work's religious subject matter.

Detailed view

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