Orange, Red and Red


Mark Rothko ( American, 1903 - 1970 )

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General Description

Mark Rothko's vast fields of glowing color voice one of the great statements of 20th century abstract art. Like those of Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman, Rothko's early mature paintings featured loosely geometric forms that the artist found in dreams, nature, and non-Western art. By the late 1940s, all three had abandoned the use of such biomorphic forms - organic shapes of cellular, plant, and human and animal life - for a completely abstract style that signaled an irrevocable change in the way art was made and perceived. Now the mere elements of a painting - its colors, forms, and scale, - were employed to bring about a confrontation between the viewer and the work meant to evoke the vitality, ecstasy, anguish, and tragedy of the post- World War II era.

Orange, Red and Red, a classic Rothko painting, induces this abstract and powerful way of experiencing art. Here Rothko laid down three contrasting color stains on an enormous raw canvas. Standing before this work, the viewer experiences the large, rough, orange square as an almost living force or power that seems to break out of the limits of any traditional concept of "picture." In this way, Rothko evokes an experience rather than illustrates one, relying on color, form, and scale to move his viewers to contemplate things transcendent, evanescent, and ultimately metaphysical.

Adapted from

  • Charles Wylie, "Orange, Red and Red," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 276.

  • Suzanne Weaver, DMA unpublished material.

Related Multimedia

Red: An Inside Look at the Art and Life of Mark Rothko; Maxwell Lincoln Anderson; Carol Mancusi-Ungaro; Joel Ferrell

Fun Facts

  • Rothko preferred that his paintings be shown in groups, together in the same room.

  • Many have suggested that Rothko was drawn to the color red so frequently in his paintings because of its powerful associations with the elements of fire and blood, and thus with life, death, and the spirit.