‘It is really a matter of ending this silence and solitude, of breathing.’ –Rothko


I’m going to break this down very simply, and as nonlibelously as possible.

On February 25, 1970, my mother received a call from Oliver Steindecker, Mark Rothko’s studio assistant, informing her that Rothko had committed suicide and was lying on the floor of his studio in a pool of blood. My mom took a cab from her house on East Eighty-Ninth to Rothko’s studio, twenty blocks south, and helped identify the body. She then took another cab uptown, to Rothko’s brownstone on East Ninety-Fifth, to tell Rothko’s estranged wife, Mell. She left a message with my father, who was, curiously, attending a funeral. Eventually he showed up as well, and helped to arrange Rothko’s funeral two days later. My mom was one month pregnant with me.

Five months later, Mell Rothko died unexpectedly of a heart attack, leaving their two children, Kate and Christopher, parentless. My mother was by now six months pregnant. Because of an inconsistency between the Rothkos’ wills, Kate, nineteen, became the ward of one Herbert Ferber, dentist-sculptor. Christopher, seven, became the ward of my parents. That arrangement ended badly. Christopher left my parents’ house the day before I was born.

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photos { Henry Elkan, Mark Rothko in his West 53rd Street studio, 1953-54 }