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.


One thought on “ROTHKO BRIDGE?

  1. Seriously flawed and anecdotal. First, he learned to draw and paint here and had his first solo show anywhere at PAM. So much for, “No thanks to Portland.” Also Arcy’s well researched essay pretty much refutes the oft repeated “hated Portland” nugget: To summarize, he did come back here… once even for his honeymoon (doesn’t sound like a hater). The truth is he had a complicated relationship with his family here, which makes sense. The naming has serious support and I think it would bring things full circle… he desperately wanted his family to respect his decision to pursue art. Rather than provincial, a bridge naming would reverse the provincial trend that still refuses to acknowledge the most accomplished person to ever call Portland their home. Overall, I see your logic but it is based on outdated scholarship and I invite you to a public debate on the issue.

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