Posts Tagged ‘Rothko Subway Series’

Mark Rothko’s solitary 1930s subway platforms

April 22, 2013

Rothkosubwayseries2Waiting for the subway to pull into the station can be a collective experience.

But not for the people in Mark Rothko’s Subway Series paintings. These figurative scenes, completed in the 1930s, depict isolated, Giacometti-esque New Yorkers who appear to be trapped in their own individual worlds.

These subway paintings “enabled him to focus on the horizontals and verticals, treating the figures as tall, spindly, stick-like forms,” according to the caption accompanying one of the paintings on the website for the virtual Musée Historique Environment Urbain.


“They are flat, stiff and inexpressive and yet suggestive of an inaccessible inner drama.”

Rothkosubwayseries3A 2012 biography of Rothko by James E.B. Breslin had this to say: “As in all his subway paintings, Rothko’s interest is not in the trains but the platforms: modern, public, urban spaces where strangers come and go—or wait.”

“His stations are not grimy, dark, hellish underground spaces; nor are they filled with quick-moving, shoving, noisy rush-hour crowds. Rather, they are bare, compressed areas which contain a slow, quiet, and solitary mobility.”

Rothko, born in Russia and raised on the West Coast, moved to New York in the 1920s and soon began his career as a painter. Classified as an abstract expressionist, he spurned the label his entire life.

An earlier post on the most famous painting in the Subway Series.

Descending the subway stairs in 1938

June 13, 2011

It’s a lonely experience in “Entrance to Subway,” by New York City painter Mark Rothko, part of his “subway series” completed in the late 1930s. These paintings depicted the disconnection of modern urban life.

“In the mid-1930s Mark Rothko began a series of works with subjects derived from the urban experience that became known as the Subway series,” writes the Brooklyn Museum. “These paintings reflect the artist’s sense of isolation, shared by many at the time, that resulted from the harsh social conditions caused by the Great Depression.”

No word on which station Rothko, who had a studio on 53rd Street, painted here. But I love the wooden turnstiles.