Joy, despair, ecstasy, tragedy: these are some of the themes that Mark Rothko sought to express in his luminous art. Rothko is renowned for his towering abstract paintings on canvas, but few people know that he also created nearly 1,000 paintings on paper over the course of his career.
Rothko insisted that his abstract paintings (like his earlier figurative works—ones that clearly represented objects or people) were about nothing less than the very nature of human experience: “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on, and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate those basic human emotions. . . And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point!”
Never content to rest on his well-earned laurels, Matisse kept pushing the development of his artwork even into his seventies when he turned to cut and pasted colored paper as his medium. It was both the aesthetic flourishing of his exploration of ever simplified shapes and flat planes of color as well as a means of diminishing the burdens of his infirmity and weakening eyesight.