Three-time Academy Award nominee John Logan wrote Red as a fictionalized version of Rothko’s creative process during his work on a commissioned project: The Seagram Murals. The play, set in Rothko’s art studio in Manhattan, follows Rothko and his assistant Ken (a fictionalized character) as the pair discuss the discipline it takes to focus one’s passion, and the sacrifices a life of art requires. Mark Rothko was the perfect subject for this rumination on the responsibility of art and artist — he was both an opinionated and prolific painter. Logan’s play also celebrates Rothko’s process by staging the strenuous preparation of canvases and careful mixing of paint, creating a striking backdrop for the play.
Logan used Rothko’s deep connections to the New York art scene to craft some witty dialogue in this memorable scene from the play. In this clip from Great Performances: Red, Rothko and Ken get into a spirited argument about the relevance and longevity of modern art, arguing over the word of painters like Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roy Lichtenstein.