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Sample Commemorative Speech: Mark Roth
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Summary: This commemorative speech commemorates the life and works of famous artist Mark Rotho. It may be given by any speaker either to students or to a general audience. It could also be used by a member of a group such as Toastmasters.
Sample Commemorative Speech
To be in the presence of a Rothko painting is to do far more than stand and admire a picture. It is to have an experience. The results of that experience depend upon the individual. They range from the profound and moving perhaps even to the bemused. Rothko’s masterpieces are that. Classified as, Abstract Expressionism, the paintings that he produced in the last twenty years of his life are some of the most remarkable and identifiable images of the twentieth century. There is no ambiguity about Mark Rothko’s genius, nor his intensity and his desire to create something intense and emotional. He was, to the end of his life, uncompromising and brave in his belief and search for expression.
Mark Rothko’s career as a painter spans five decades. His life began in Russian Latvia and he came as an immigrant to America. His heritage and life fuses European traditions and European and American modernism. His work stands as some of the most powerful but uneasy pictures ever committed to canvas. In the end illness, depression and eventually suicide brought his life to a close.
His work endures as a magnificent testament to a supreme artist who created a new and impassioned form of abstract painting. Yet Rothko would have hoped it was more than that. He might have hoped that those who came to see his work in the right setting might have an encounter akin to a religious experience.
There’s no denying that his work is extraordinarily powerful. It resonates with an energy, either uplifting or brooding. It does not leave you alone. In front of Rothko, you are forced to confront yourself. You are drawn into an experience. You feel dwarfed by the presence of something you cannot quite explain or comprehend. Many people witnessing his work report feelings that are emotional and tearful. No reproduction or photograph of his work can possibly do the original justice. To feel the power of his work you have to be there in front of it.
What is certain is that Rothko was one of the pre-eminent artists of his generation. His influences were many and his influence extends to composers and musicians as well as to painters. There seems to be something about his best work that defies words. Perhaps that is why titles and names for his work became redundant to him. The artist himself chose to use numbers to identify works. There were many attempts to commission Rothko to produce work to hang in public spaces. There were not all successful. Perhaps the most famous is the Rothko Chapel in Huston. This experiment was years in the making and preparation. The obsessive effort involved might even have contributed to Rothko’s depression and his death.
Yet there is something about Rothko’s work that begs to be hung in public spaces. Rothko himself would not have wanted those spaces to be art museums. There is something spiritual about the experience we have confronting his work. Yet attempts to describe the work often fails. Rothko himself found words inadequate preferring eventually to let the paintings exist in silence. He tired of trying to explain what he saw as a fundamentally emotional and non-verbal experience. Critics and the public alike disagree to this day, how far he succeeded in his quest to represent this.
Rothko was uncompromising. Commissioned to provide work for a restaurant on Park Avenue, he produced forty paintings over three months. He then decided to abandon the project, unhappy that his work should hang in a restaurant. Much of that work now resides in museums in the US, London and Japan.
The work he produced was unique, powerful and individual. A Rothko painting is an iconic image. The canvasses he chose to work on were by most standards huge. This is not art for the small room or the fainthearted. A vast Rothko canvas might typically comprise of floating rectangles of colour. They work with and against each other. They range from light and energising yellows and reds towards much deeper and far more sombre hues. Whatever their variation, they never cease to convey a deep feeling of sensuality. If you close your eyes or turn your back on a Rothko, you can feel its presence hovering and burning behind you. His work shimmers with power and intensity. The paintings are hypnotic and powerful.
Perhaps the clues to such extraordinary work and output come partly from the characters Rothko grew up with and the circles he mixed in. His family of Russian Jewish extraction found themselves outcasts in their own country. Immigrating to the US, the Rothkowitz’s arrived at Ellis Island in the winter of 1913. By 1914, Marcus Rothkowitz’s father was dead. Yet Marcus, who would change his name to Mark before WWII, was a bright and eager student. With four languages at his disposal and as many cultural influences, he graduated from High School at seventeen years of age. He won a scholarship to Yale, although he dropped out citing the Yale community as too elitist and racist for his taste. It was not until 1923 that he witnessed, by accident, his first art class and began his life as an artist.
The Rothko that would find fame and fortune after WWII was still a long way off. Enrolled in the New School of Design, Rothkowitz’s tutors included GORKY and MAX WEBER. New York at the time was a hotbed atmosphere revelling in modernism. The galleries showed modernist paintings and the museums were to prove an invaluable resource for a budding artist. Rothko had his own showing in 1928 and a year later he was teaching classes in sculpture and painting.
Rothko was a great thinker and debater. He wrote, although never completed a book, on his theories linking modernism with primitive and children’s intuitive art. His work developed and he began to incorporate classical myths and symbolism.
In common with many, Rothko read and was influenced by Freud, Jung, and the concept of the collective unconscious. The rise of Nazism forced the immigration to the US of many celebrated and avant-garde artists, Miro, Dali, Ernst and Breton among them. Symbolism and modern art had taken New York by storm. As heady and exciting as all this was, Rothko was still searching for a fresher mode of expression. He broke away from symbolism into what have been called, ‘multi form’ paintings. In these, his use of bright abstract colour emerged. They were unique, in that they seemed to possess a life and energy of their own. Yet at the same time, they were blurred blocks of colour without recognisable form. There were not landscapes as such, nor human figures, or symbols.
In this work and the extraordinary work that was to follow, it seemed as if Rothko had abandoned traditional artistic aims altogether. His work seemed more to do with a spiritual quest than a representation or interpretation of an object. As he developed his ideas through these forms and experience, it occurred to Rothko that even specific titles for his work were too restrictive. As Rothko struggled with his vision and expression, his personal life suffered. He fought depression, alcoholism and after a second marriage break up and then his mother’s death, he retreated into seclusion. The resulting work was to be extraordinary.
For seven years, he painted in oils on vast canvasses. These have the effect of immersing the viewer, providing a feeling of intimacy and awe. During the 1950’s Rothko travelled widely still seeking out art and revelling in the Italian frescoes. Conversely, as fame and fortune found him, so he began to doubt his work was being appreciated for the right reasons. Former friends, perhaps jealous of his commercial success, accused him of betrayal and of selling out. Buying a Rothko, it seemed, was a prudent and sound financial investment for an art collector.
Frustration trying to verbalise or explain his art caused him to further shy away from discussing his work. That same work seemed to express real human emotions, from tragedy to ecstasy. Critics see Rothko’s move towards dark and brooding colours as symptomatic of his depression. As his retrospective is held in the Museum of Modern Art, Pop Art is already the next ‘big thing.’ Rothko is scathing in his opinion of those who have not paid their dues and calls the movement, the tragedy of art as a commodity.
Perhaps the commissioning of what became the Rothko chapel, was the fitting place for this genius’ work to be experienced. To Rothko’s delight, it would be far from the hub of fashionable New York. The distance meant that people who wanted the experience would have to be prepared to make the journey. It would be a journey not unlike a religious pilgrimage.
The fourteen pieces of work that hang there took Rothko six years to produce. They are, by all accounts, an awesome experience to view, and according to some the zenith of darkness and unpredictability. Rothko never saw the culmination of his life’s work completed. His depression and suicide in 1970 ended a life that was intense and at times painful and traumatic. The work he left behind is no less powerful. They are, perhaps, some of the most resonant paintings ever committed to canvas by an artist.
Mark Rothko 1903 – 1971
Rothko had his own vision
He looked at the world through eyes
That did not see things as others did
So each work was different, a surprise.
Not for him the safe and ordinary
Not for him what other artists did
His canvasses were huge, extraordinary
With his paintings he lifted the lid
On his beliefs and his genius
As he painted, not for him the fuss
Of commercialism but rather he stood apart
Interested only in what he saw, his art
Is a treasure that he has left behind
A message to be interpreted by mankind.
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