Honouring Rothko


Anne Harkin- Petersen reports on her residency at the 2010 edition of the Mark Rothko International Plein Air event, held in Daugavpils, Latvia.

The Mark Rothko International Plein Air is a painting residency / symposia event organised by The Department of Culture at Daugavpils, Latvia. Artists from eleven countries participated in the 2010 edition of the Mark Rothko International Plein Air, which ran from 14 – 26 September 2010 in the city of Daugavpils. Ireland was represented by two visual artists, Kristina Huxley and myself – Anne Harkin- Petersen. We applied to take part in the event, in response to a notice circulated in the Visual Artists Ireland e-bulletin. Kristina and myself are both Galway based artists.  Kristina is also a lecturer in Core Studies at the National College of Art and Design.

The other international participants were: Nina Stoupina, (Belgium); Guna Millersone (Latvia); Vaidotas Janulis (Lithuania); Atsuhide Ito (U.K.); Christian Breed (Italy); Anja Kornerup-Bang (France); Tim van Tuil (The Netherlands); Gitte Winther (Denmark); Oleh Bezyuk (Ukraine) Roman Striga (Belarus); Sergey Grinevich (Belarus)

Daugavpils, formerly known as Dvinsk, is the birthplace of Mark Rothko –  born on 25September 1903. His family emigrated to America, where Rothko achieved his fame. In 2003 Daugavpils honoured their famous son and celebrated the centenary of his birth. A memorial in the form of a sculpture was erected and placed on the banks of the river Dauga. The Mark Rothko International Plein Air was also inaugurated in order to honour Daugavpils’s local art hero, with the first run of the event taking place in 2006. While having the support of the director of local Department of Culture, the principal forces behind this initiative are two wonderful ladies; Sarmite Teivane and Farida Zaletilo.

Historically, Daugavpils city was developed because of its strategic position on the river Dauga. Here a fortress was built by successive Tsars to protect the city from invasion. Its been proposed that one building in the fortess be utilised as venue for an international Mark Rothko centre. As part of our introduction to the residency we were given a tour of the Fortress and invited to view the plans of the proposed design of the Rothko centre. The plans comprise of a large exhibition area, along with studio and accommodation facilitates for artists residencies.

The Mark Rothko Art Centre will be an immense achievement for the Baltic Regions and greater Europe. The centre will have a lifetime impact on the artists involved and on the wider community of visual artists in the region and indeed globally. In terms of a parallel, a Clyfford Still Museum is currently being completed in Denver, USA, which will honour another abstract expressionist of the 20th century.

We along with the other participating artists were guests of The Culture Department at Daugavpils. From the moment of our arrival until our departure we were treated in the kindest, most helpful manner possible. From early morning until late some nights we were treated to cultural tours of the city and museums, churches, synagogue, art schools, the university, and given the historical background at all stages. Mealtimes were an opportunity to exchange ideas, and feelings with fellow artists and language constraints did not pose too large a problem.

All the participating artists were allocated studios and the residency also covered our hotel accommodation. The studios were located in an art school and we worked both in natural and artificial light. Canvasses and a limited supply of materials were provided (the size of canvasses had to be indicated in advance)

Four key people played a major role in making our stay enjoyable and productive. These were Sarmite and Farida – already mentioned, and then we had Mudite who acted as general guide and Aija who was our interpreter.  Of course there were many more who facilitated our needs, including the Director of the Art school where we were allocated individual studios; the Caretakers at the school; the Museum Director and Staff; Stas our photographer, the head of the Art Department at the University of Daugavpils; the head of the Ceramics school, Municipal Staff and hotel staff who looked after our meals.

The level of hospitality we received was impressive. At the official opening we were introduced to the local artist community at an event that featured a performance by Koanproject an instrumental and ambient experimental / avant-garde band from Riga, Latvia. We also were honorary guests at the theatre production, Chagal, Chagal by Belarus Vitebsk Drama Theatre; an international ice skating gala; and a traditional Lithuanian and Latvian folk culture evening.

During the gala dinner held for the event we were entertained by a local quartet of excellent Jazz musicians. Another highlight was the opening of an exhibition by Latvian print-maker Vaidotas Janulis, who was also participating in the residency; we also attended the Saules Skola Student exhibition, which presented great work.

A number of talks and seminars were organised as part of the Plien Air. These included Abstract Expressionism:The View from the 21st Century a lecture by Dr. David Anfam, noted art historian and scholar of Abstract Expressionism; and poet Peteris Cedrins talk Hell’s Kitchen: Poetry in the Art World, Art in the Poetry World: in the New World.