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Red on Maroon by Mark Rothko

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Red on Maroon by Mark Rothko.

About the Work

Title: Red on Maroon
Artist : Mark Rothko
Year : 1959
Medium : Oil paint, acrylic paint and glue tempera on canvas
Dimensions :  2667 × 2388 × 35 mm
Location : Tate, UK

Mark-Rothko_Red-on-Maroon-1959_Artwork-in-Focus_Divvya-Nirula
Red on Maroon 1959 Mark Rothko 1903-1970 Presented by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1969 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T01165

Reaching into the Red on Maroon

The process of creation was one of meditation and a spiritual process for Rothko. He endeavoured to project the basic of emotions through his work. The laborious work he put in to his canvases created multiple layers of colour and thereby creating multiple dimensions of meaning.

Red on Maroon was meticulously crafted, painted on a single sheet of tightly stretched cotton duck canvas. Maroon paint formed the base coat of the canvas, and the powder pigments of colour were dissolved and mixed with rabbit skin glue. As was intended, as the glue dried, the paint shrank, giving the surface it’s distinct matt finish. A second coat, was added to the base, which was scraped away, leaving a thin coating of colour. The red paint was dramatically added rapidly with urgent brushstrokes. A large commercial decorator’s brush was used! The smudgy-ness of the edges were created with the strokes between the blocks of colour. This is what created a sense of depth and dynamism. This was a deliberate move because the painting has gradually changed with time due to the altering of the natural materials and the pigments mature at different rates.

“The romantics were prompted to seek exotic subjects and to travel to far off places. They failed to realize that, though the transcendental must involve the strange and unfamiliar, not everything strange or unfamiliar is transcendental.”

Mark Rothko

Other Details

Rothko’s Red on Maroon is one of his most well-known works. Rothko was one of the pioneers of the Colour field Abstraction, alongside Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell. The viewer is invited to swim and experience and be a part of the painting. Rothko’s works are typical of the style with the large flat expanses of colour.

Although Rothko himself refused to adhere to any labels or norms for his works – his works are characterised by their array and interaction of colour.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the archive for Artwork in Focus.

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