Gradient art: what is it? & Mark Rothko's use of color gradients

Gradient Art is an art form that uses colors of a gradient to create an artwork. 

There has been a rise in the popularity of gradient-like artwork, which is when a gradual blending from one color to another occurs, creating different color transitions. Depending on the colors used, the resulting gradient art can evoke a wide range of emotions and feelings, transforming its surrounding spaces.  

What is Gradient Art?

Gradient art is a type of art that uses a color gradient to create the illusion of depth and three-dimensional space. The colors are also used in other forms such as painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, etc. With this type of artwork, light can be cast on an object from different angles giving it a realistic look and feel. The colors also change depending on how you view them, providing an artistic appeal and allowing for different interpretations by viewers.

Artists use different techniques to create these paintings, such as layering, blending, and applying gradients with different colors or textures. They can do this by using various paintbrushes, pencils, pastels, or even their fingers.


But what are gradients? How do they differ from colors?

Gradients are color transitions that change gradually from one color to another.

A gradient is a gradual transition from one color to another. The first color is always lighter than the last color. Angles are typically created with a series of paints mixed in varying degrees.

Color gradients are the most common type of gradient and can be used for backgrounds or borders, but they can also be used for other purposes, such as creating an accent wall or adding depth to an image. A rainbow gradient is often used to create depth and dimension in images.

There are many types of gradients, including radial gradients, linear gradients, and diagonal gradients.

Mark Rothko and his own use of gradient art


Known for his large, encapsulating and colorful paintings, Mark Rothko was interested in evoking basic human emotions  - anger, doom, ecstasy - through painting. His work was expansive in its use of color as well as the wide open spaces created, allowing the viewer to experience different sensations. 

Rothko's gradients were not precisely blended, instead they were constructed in a way that invited the viewer to question which color was placed first on the canvas. He first developed his compositional technique in 1947, described by famous art critic Clement Greenberg as "color-field painting" a term that would perfectly describe Rothko's work.

Rothko's gradients are unlike any other because of the way the artist created his paintings. Rothko applied a large amount of black paint in uneven strokes, spreaded throughout the entire canvas and then feathered around the edges, creating a scuffed effect. Rothko's unique gradients are found in small areas of the paintings, usually in the middle, when the tones transition from one to the next. 

His large canvas was made to be experienced in person where the atmosphere of the space translates the varying emotions transmitted by the colors. One of Rothko's most famous series is the Seagram's Murals, displayed at the Tate Modern in London. The series consists of seven dark and sombre paintings, using a palette of blacks, reds and browns. Rothko's gave the paintings to the Tate Modern, the home of the biggest collection of JMW Turner's work, and because of his own admiration for Turner, Rothko hoped to have the series displayed in the gallery right next to Turner's works.


Mark Rothko Seagram's Murals

The atmosphere shift from Rothko's dark gradients to Turner's perfectly blended gradient art skies is deeply moving. A dialogue between the two is instantly created while visitors walk through one gallery to the other. 

"Sunrise" , JMW Turner

From Rothko's colored rectangles to digitalized gradient art used in advertising, color experimentation is fundamental to both the creation of artworks and the viewer's experience. 

How does each color make you feel?

Is it possible to describe such feelings?

Are they uncomfortable? Or are they soothing?

What kind of emotion does a specific color gradient evoke?

For more information on the Tate Modern collection: