The Seagram Murals by Mark Rothko 1959, I saw these paintings at the old Tate gallery, what is now Tate Britain. At the time I did not really appreciate the work, and yes I remember feeling a deep calm in the installation room. No such religious intoxication as I have read about visitors experiencing. The strange part is that although this work did not affect me consciously, it became a recurring dream. I would dream about the paintings. Years after first seeing them, during a depression, my dreams about the murals became more common and I made the effort to go and see them. There is something about these paintings that I cannot quantify, as if Rothko captured a dark mood with his abstraction.
The paintings arrived in London on the morning of Rothko’s suicide. It was not clear, when Rothko died in 1970, why he had accepted the unlikely commission to decorate a swanky restaurant on Park Avenue, on the mezzanine floor of Manhattan’s most authoritative new skyscraper. And he never satisfactorily explained why he suddenly and violently decided to withdraw his paintings and return the money in 1959.
Rothko was intense, solitary, leftwing, used to poverty and failure. Born into a Jewish family in Dvinsk, Russia, in 1903, Rothko – his given name was Marcus Rothkowitz – emigrated with his family to the United States when he was 10. He grew up a poor outsider in Portland, Oregon, but was academically brilliant enough to get into Yale in 1921 – which he hated. In 1923 he headed for New York City, to “wander around, bum about, starve a bit”. His New York was a city of deli lunch counters, subway stations, art classrooms, visits to the Metropolitan Museum.