There seems to be an attempt to drum up interest in naming our new Willamette River bridge after Mark Rothko. He was a great painter and seeing his retrospective at the Guggenheim in 1978 was, for me, a glorious experience. (Just to make sure I was using “glorious” correctly I looked it up: having a striking beauty or splendor that evokes feelings of delighted admiration. Yup, that was it.)
Rothko lived in Portland from 1913-1921, from ages 10-18. He went to Shattuck School, now Shattuck Hall at Portland State University, and Lincoln High School, now Lincoln Hall at PSU. I guess it is because of this that some want to claim Rothko for Portland.
According to James E. Breslin’s authoritative Mark Rothko: a biography, Rothko never took art classes while in Portland. Breslin also writes:
Later in life Rothko claimed that had he “remained in Portland, he would have been a bum,” whereas in New York he found the “freedom to develop.” “He hated Portland,” calling it “dull and provincial.” He felt “he didn’t belong.” In Sonia’s [Rothko’s sister] recollection, “he wanted bigger horizons,” and his desire to leave began at Lincoln. “He said when he gets out of high school, he is going someplace else.”
So we could name the bridge after someone who “hated Portland”—and if we do, grabbing at the coattails of someone who became a great artist, no thanks to Portland, it will be a sign that we are still provincial.