Brice Marden’s latest work and drawings are tentative, tender, heartbreaking, indignant, weak, and open. As his work requires him to interact the floor with gesture, strain, and motion — which has been true because the starting of his profession — it’s tied to what he can bodily accomplish. Wanting again on the profession of this preeminent artist, I see three fundamental durations. Within the first, which lasted from 1964 to the mid-Nineteen Eighties, he labored monochromatically and was recognized for the thoroughness of his consideration to floor and the palpable but elusive shade he might attain with encaustic. There was an unmistakable physicality to his muted work, a stress between the expressive and the understated.
Within the second interval he re-envisioned how he used line and the way he painted, and traded the delicate tactility of encaustic for diluted oil and drawing in what he as soon as described to me as “soiled turpentine.” This era was impressed by his window designs for the Basel Cathedral; his travels in North Africa, the place he checked out Islamic structure in Fez and Marrakesh; a visit to Thailand, the place he began gathering seashells, significantly volutes, and made layered drawings loosely impressed by their markings; and by the exhibition Masters of Japanese Calligraphy, eighth–nineteenth Century, on the Japan Home Gallery and Asia Society, New York (October 4, 1984–January 6, 1985).
In his work from this time, he would return into the looping traces and, utilizing a razor blade, ensure that the perimeters had been straight and clear. The traces had been flat and moved gracefully, evoking Jackson Pollock’s drip work with out resembling them in any method. I by no means felt that Marden thought it was essential to both jettison the previous or to cite it. He thought it was potential to maneuver ahead with out assenting to those well-known decisions, and time has confirmed that he was proper.
Whereas Marden’s meticulousness and definitive visible statements characterize the primary two durations, the third, or what I see as his late interval, reveals an artist who is aware of that change is inevitable, that mortality is hurrying nearer, and that artwork will not be a bulwark towards time. This consciousness of the clock operating out has had a significant impact on his work and, I might hazard, on his psyche.
I estimate that this late interval began round 2016–17, when he made 10 work measuring 8 by 6 toes, utilizing 10 completely different manufacturers of terre verte oil paint; every portray was executed in one of many manufacturers, with the paint utilized in successive layers. The method was incremental, restrained, and, as along with his earlier work, totally thought by relating to its parameters. On the time, Marden was practically 80.
Marden utilized a skinny wash of one of many terre vertes over the whole floor. He then measured off a horizontal line, which resulted in a sq. on high, tightly filling the higher portion of the vertical format, whereas leaving a large band operating alongside the underside. This compositional construction appears to have been impressed by the proportions of a vertical sketchbook that he was utilizing on the time. Subsequent, he stuffed the sq. with successive layers of moist, slow-drying paint, permitting skinny rivulets of shade to drip down from the sq.’s backside edge into the band beneath, like ragged strings. By dividing the canvas into two unequal areas and masking the floor in strict monochrome, Marden restricted his management over the portray’s imagery, in addition to surrendered his skill to find out what occurred within the extensive band beneath.
Marden selected terre verte (also referred to as “inexperienced earth”) with the data that Botticelli used it because the underpainting of his topic’s flesh in works comparable to “Idealized Portrait of a Woman” (egg tempera, 1480), the place it peeks by the determine’s translucent pores and skin. Generally known as probably the most everlasting of all pigments, it evokes each damp moss and decay.
For Marden, shade is rarely simply shade; it’s related to nature, gentle, and alchemy. It appears to me that nobody has but delved deeply into all of the ways in which shade signifies and resonates in his work, from his reference to daylight shining by a grove of olive timber to the trinity of colours he utilized in his works for the Basel Cathedral.
These are a few of the ideas, reminiscences, and emotions that got here to thoughts shortly after I sat on a bench in the primary gallery of the exhibition Brice Marden: These paintings are of themselves, at Gagosian (November 13–December 23, 2021), however as I used to be wanting on the work, one other line of thought started to crystallize.
Within the late ’80s, following from his curiosity in calligraphy, Marden started engaged on Chilly Mountain, a sequence of black and white work, drawings, and etchings impressed by his studying of the legendary Chinese language hermit poet Han Shan, as translated by Crimson Pine. In an interview with the painter Pat Steir that appeared within the brochure accompanying these works within the exhibition Brice Marden: Chilly Mountain, at Dia Chelsea (October 17, 1991 – Might 31, 1992), Marden said:
At first I did drawings utilizing the shape that the poems soak up Chinese language, then I began becoming a member of picture and calligraphy, utilizing the form of the poem as a skeleton. I’m changing into increasingly more within the concepts of the Tao and Zen. The Chilly Mountain poems are very a lot about that.
Later, he mentioned:
It’s not a type of writing. I’m not attempting to make a language.
I don’t suppose that Marden is attempting to make language, however wanting on the work and drawings I started to suppose that there’s an asemic factor to those works that shouldn’t be ignored. That is significantly true of the portray “Chalk” (oil, charcoal, and graphite on linen, 96 by 72 inches, 2013-21), which appears to have remodeled every part that Marden has beforehand executed into one thing contemporary — directly calm, accepting, and uncovered.
Utilizing the identical proportions that he selected for his terre verte work, Marden demarcated a 6 by 6-foot sq., leaving a two-foot band beneath. He then divided the sq. right into a grid of 225 squares, utilizing a pencil, in order that it rests on the band. The palette within the higher a part of the portray consists of sandstone purple, Chinese language purple, and ghostly white, whereas the band beneath is a mustard yellow infused with inexperienced — obliquely complimentary colours. The band additionally stirs up associations with Chinese language scroll portray, during which the work is mounted on yellow silk.
Inside every sq. of the grid, Marden has used white to render a rounded type, typically as an open line and different instances a bisected type, that evokes nature (i.e., rocks) and linguistic indicators. The grid can be learn as a chart, however of what? Evoking chalk (the portray’s title), the faint white traces recommend an indecipherable language, a file whose which means we are able to solely guess at, in addition to a state of impermanence. Over this grid of white, natural shapes, he has drawn a sequence of traces in purple and white paint. One of many white traces appears to outline the silhouette of a determine. (How can we learn it?) The opposite white traces are used to partially cowl a purple line, typically painted moist into moist, so that they grow to be a selected hue. Among the purple drips down the greenish band.
“Chalk” is a layered portray or palimpsest during which Marden brings collectively completely different supplies — graphite, pencil, and oil paint — and two monochromatic grounds, with additional marks and contours made on the bigger space. In distinction to his penchant for management, which definitely was an indicator of the monochromatic work and of later works, such because the six-panel portray “The Propitious Backyard of Airplane Picture, Third Model” (2000-6), within the assortment of MoMA, Marden has been letting go because the terre verte items. His use of asemic indicators acknowledges that one can not say every part in language, and that some a part of our expertise stays indecipherable. And but, understanding this, he doesn’t arrive on the identical vacancy twice; he by no means turns this incapability to put in writing the inchoate into language right into a theme or variation. Each portray is completely different. By his earlier requirements, these works are unfinished and contingent on the artist’s ageing physique.
In his interview with Steir, Marden acknowledged the position that point performed, its impact on the physique, and he made no try to hunt refuge in fashion:
I’m 5’ 8 ½”, and I weigh this a lot, and I’m left handed, and I’m a sure age. That has an enormous impact on what a factor appears like. The sort of mark I could make bodily.
The Tao teaches the adept to let go of expectations and stay in there right here and now. When Marden continues the vertical row of marks on the far proper facet of a drawing, even because the ink is operating out, he doesn’t replenish the ink however data himself fading from view. The indicators he makes won’t be decipherable, however they spoke straight to my coronary heart. They’re the diary of an ageing man residing in time, whereas conveying his love for sure locations and sights. I feel they’re among the many most open, deeply shifting work and drawings that Marden has made in his already storied profession.
Brice Marden: These paintings are of themselves continues at Gagosian (541 West twenty fourth Road, Chelsea, Manhattan) by December 23.
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