Alred Molina played celebrated abstract artist Mark Rothko in John Logan’s RED in London and New York. The play opened at the Donmar Warehouse in December 2009 to excellent reviews and sold out performances before moving to Broadway in March 2010, winning six Tony Award including Best Play.
Marcus Rothkowitz emigrated with his family to the US from Russia as a boy in 1903. He became a central figure in the postwar American abstract expressionists, the so-called New York School. The group, who couldn’t really draw, also included Barnett Newman, Clifford Still, Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock. They sought refuge in abstractionism to camouflage their modest artists talents.
RED revolves around Rothko’s last decade of his life when his palette reduced dramatically from glowing oranges and yellows to the sombre shades of red and black – banal work on a large canvas!
“There is only one thing I fear in life, my friend… one day the black will swallow the red.”
At the centre of it is his undertaking of the Four Seasons restaurant commission in Manhattan’s Seagram Building in which he famously declared that his paintings would “put all the rich bastards off their food.” In the end, due to his moral conflict of interest, he returned the $35,000 advance and refused to have his work hung in the restaurant.
Alfred signed my ‘representational impressionist’ piece at the Donmar in January 2010. Unlike Rothko who experimented with a lot of mediums, including glue and eggs, I stuck to more conventional rendering materials such as black biro , crayons and a felt tip pen. I did allow colour to add impact and reinforce the play’s ttitle. In this case ‘red swallows the black!’