Can You Tell These Rothkos Were Made On An iPhone?

With a simple painting app, student Derek Brahney has replicated the abstract artist’s genius–quite convincingly.

Last year it was discovered that a gallery on New York’s Upper East Side had sold a fake Mark Rothko to a collector, for $5.5 million. (The same gallery pawned off forgeries of Jackson Pollack, as well.) After the scandal both the New York Times and the New Yorker published short think pieces about the nature of forged art: Can we still derive pleasure from fakes? Might we even view them as pieces the original artist never got around to?


New York-based artist Derek Brahney’s series of petite imitation Rothkos are designed to get your art theory gears turning, too. He created each of these “paintings” on his iPhone. “These works are more about considering the way we experience the world today: increasingly through small illuminated LCD screens,” he tells Co.Design.

About a year ago Brahney took a snapshot of a Rothko at MoMA. Looking at it later, he got an idea: Using an app called Inspire, he started picking brush sizes and colors and, with the touch of his finger, emulating the boxy abstractions that the postwar painter is famous for.

A few are nearly exact copies, but most of them are original color combinations and designs. Of course, none of the iPhone Rothkos are in any way meant as forgeries, because Brahney isn’t attempting to turn a profit off the series. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t convincing. It begs the question: how is technology changing how we view art? Just as Rothko never actually created the fake pieces sold in New York, he never meant for his work to be seen as two inches wide. But at the same time, does that matter when we catalog every morsel of our lives through smartphones–including works of art seen at museums?

“Why Rothko?” Brahney asks. “There is a soothing effect to the radiating blocks of color. But they were initially misunderstood, as his real intention was to overwhelm and envelop the viewer with emotion. I think the way we use the Internet–being constantly connected–can also give us a soothing effect, but it’s a false one.”

Check out iPhone Rothkos here.

[h/t It’s Nice That]


About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.