Arts & CultureMark Rothko: Behind the legacy and the Louis Vuitton Foundation Retrospective

Mark Rothko: Behind the legacy and the Louis Vuitton Foundation Retrospective

Mark Rothko’s iconic deep colour combinations are recognised across the world, and have influenced designers across all industries, inspiring everything from furnishings to fashion. The artist took the term ‘abstract expression’ and gave it new meaning. Today his legacy remains just as relative, with a Mark Rothko Retrospective opening on October 18 at the Louis Vuitton Foundation.


The retrospective will honour Rothko’s work, bringing 115 admirable pieces from some of the largest art institutions like the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and private collections to Paris, France. 


The exhibition will trace the artist’s career, reviving his extraordinary ability to bring human emotion to life on canvas. Beginning with his intimate scenes and urban landscapes, the retrospective will transition into his abstract expressionism work from 1946 onward, spotlighting the bold shift in both Rothko’s career and the abstract environment. 


Rothko’s words, “I became a painter because I wanted to raise painting to the level of poignancy of music and poetry,” sets the tone for the Louis Vuitton Foundation exhibit, which all together, seems quite philosophical in nature.


Mark Rothko, “Black and Grey”, (1969).


What does it mean to be expressive? Rothko, a Latvian born American artist, led a life of feeling. Some of his most popular works include “Black on Maroon” (1958), “Red, White, Black on Yellow” (1955), “No. 61 (Rust and Blue)” (1953), and his earlier work “Entrance to Subway” (1938). The painter’s works have been famously displayed in major galleries around the world like The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Tate in London.


Despite not personally subscribing to any one school, Rothko associated with the American Abstract Expressionist movement. By exploring shape, pattern and colour in an abstract way, Rothko’s paintings put the responsibility of feeling onto the viewer’s hands. 

Mark Rothko, “Orange, Red and Yellow”, 1961.


The Rothko trail


Knowing his legacy serves as a tool to explore human emotion, inspired Rothko designs float around today, anxiously waiting to enter new spaces. Enter Creative Matters, a Toronto company designing premium and innovative wall and floor coverings for luxury retailers, corporations and government buildings around the world. Creative Matters’ Rothko-inspired “Exhale” rugs were released this year.  Exceptionally bold and rich in colour, these designs are available in Garnet and Indigo and serve as a reminder of the endless possibilities driven by Rothko’s passion for feeling.


Creative Matters “Exhale” Rug in Colours Garnet and Indigo.


Memorable Interpretations of Rothko’s work have also circulated the runway over the years. Inspiration was displayed on garments during the Raf Simons Fall 2008, Bottega Veneta Resort 2012 and Pamella Roland Fall 2017 runways. These designs paid tribute to Rothko’s colour blocking technique and rich jewel tones, stylishly integrating them into modern fashion. 


Rothko inspired looks by Bottega Veneta, Raf Simons and Pamella Roland.


Beyond design, Rothko paved the way in the art world for other abstract expressionists. His tangible influence can be seen in the way artists intertwine deep colour combinations and is even noticeable in brushwork. Artists like Sheila Hicks, Pat Steir and Byron Kim are modern day examples of turning colour into something representational of human emotion. However, it remains a wonder if any similar technique could evoke the same poignancy as Rothko’s abstract expressionism.


Sheila Hicks “Downside Up”, 2018, Pat Steir “Primary Amsterdam Waterfall”, 1990, Byron Kin “B.Q.O. 33 (Duck Dive)”, 2022.


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Stephanie Beattie is a Glossi Mag contributor.


In her final year of journalism school at Toronto Metropolitan University, Stephanie loves painting, Bob Dylan and caramel lattes.

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