It’s a marvelous work about our favorite Resident Tortured Haunted Genius Painter: Mark Rothko.
The play is set in 1958, in Rothko’s New York studio where he is at work on set of massive murals commissioned by the Four Season’s hotel. Under the watchful gaze of his new assistant, the two argue about art, commercialism, success, failure, and all sorts of fascinating creative dilemmas. After all, Rothko had received one the largest comissions the New York art world had seen to paint pictures for a hotel’s high end restaurant. The moral quandrys abound!
Good plays about inspired works of art make for damn fine writing. Here is, by far, one the best description’s of Rothko’s work I’ve read to date. William Boyd, Independent
“Rothko’s paintings display, in the jargon of the art world, “frontality”. There is no attempt to violate the two-dimensional plane – no depth, no perspective; any semi-figurative explanation is robustly prohibited (no empty beach and sky, no cloudscape, here). All evaluation of this type of pure abstract art is reduced to one’s reaction and appreciation – or not – of the colour tones and relationships and the compositional balance or imbalance of the respective blocks of colour. There is nothing wrong with this: pure abstraction, if it is to be appreciated correctly, has to be judged on the strict terms it offers the viewer. To say “that was the colour of the wall in my bedroom when I was a sick child”, or “to me blue equals misery”, or “that reminds me of a sunset in Crete” is redundant. But in Rothko’s case that was never enough. A bombastic, opinionated intellectual, Rothko wanted his simple, extremely beautiful paintings to be freighted with mythic, portentous significance – to be about the despair at the heart of the human condition, doom, entropy, the void and oblivion. Undertaking the Four Seasons commission, he famously declared that he wanted to put all the rich bastards dining there off their food.”
Rothko, ultimately too disturbed by notion of his high-minded work being displayed in a such a banal setting like a restaurant, decided to give back the $35,000 he was paid and refused to have his paintings hung.