This painting belongs to Rothko’s Black on Gray group of paintings. He divided the canvas into distinct halves, limited himself to two colors, and introduced a crisp, white border. The limited palette and stark composition differ significantly from the atmospheric Color Field paintings for which he is best known. Created during the last years of the 1960s, this painting betrays the influence of Minimal art on Rothko’s work.
Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011.
Rothko’s late Black on Gray series reflects a change in his artistic direction shortly before he took his own life in 1970. By the late 1960s, years of heavy smoking and drinking, depression, and anxiety were taking a toll on his mental and physical health. This work’s spare composition and stark black-and-gray palette stems as much from his emotional state as from his interest in the work of the up-and-coming Minimalist generation. In opposition to the Abstract Expressionists, the Minimalists sought to strip away the artist’s emotional and physical presence from the art object. The influence of their approach may be seen in Rothko’s flat application of paint, his opaque surface, and his division of the composition into two distinct, geometric halves—qualities that differ markedly from those of the lyrical, atmospheric Color Field paintings of the previous decades.
Additional text from In The Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting online course, Coursera, 2017