Brice Marden’s latest work and drawings are tentative, tender, heartbreaking, offended, susceptible, and open. As his work requires him to have interaction the floor with gesture, stress, and motion — which has been true for the reason that starting of his profession — it’s tied to what he can bodily accomplish. Trying again on the profession of this preeminent artist, I see three fundamental intervals. Within the first, which lasted from 1964 to the mid-Eighties, he labored monochromatically and was recognized for the thoroughness of his consideration to floor and the palpable but elusive coloration he might attain with encaustic. There was an unmistakable physicality to his muted work, a rigidity 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 refined 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, notably 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 the sides have been straight and clear. The traces have been flat and moved gracefully, evoking Jackson Pollock’s drip work with out resembling them in any manner. I by no means felt that Marden thought it was essential to both jettison the previous or to cite it. He thought it was attainable 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 intervals, 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 just isn’t a bulwark in opposition to time. This consciousness of the clock operating out has had a significant impact on his work and, I’d 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 finished in one of many manufacturers, with the paint utilized in successive layers. The method was incremental, restrained, and, as together with his earlier work, totally thought by concerning its parameters. On the time, Marden was almost 80.
Marden utilized a skinny wash of one of many terre vertes over your entire 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 crammed the sq. with successive layers of moist, slow-drying paint, permitting skinny rivulets of coloration to drip down from the sq.’s backside edge into the band under, like ragged strings. By dividing the canvas into two unequal areas and protecting the floor in strict monochrome, Marden restricted his management over the portray’s imagery, in addition to surrendered his capacity to find out what occurred within the large band under.
Marden selected terre verte (also called “inexperienced earth”) with the data that Botticelli used it because the underpainting of his topic’s flesh in works corresponding to “Idealized Portrait of a Girl” (egg tempera, 1480), the place it peeks by the determine’s translucent pores and skin. Often known as one of the vital everlasting of all pigments, it evokes each damp moss and decay.
For Marden, coloration isn’t simply coloration; it’s related to nature, mild, and alchemy. It appears to me that nobody has but delved deeply into all of the ways in which coloration signifies and resonates in his work, from his reference to daylight shining by a grove of olive bushes to the trinity of colours he utilized in his works for the Basel Cathedral.
These are a few of the ideas, recollections, 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 trying 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 Purple 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 acknowledged:
To start with 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 turning into an increasing number of within the concepts of the Tao and Zen. The Chilly Mountain poems are very a lot about that.
Later, he stated:
It’s not a type of writing. I’m not making an attempt to make a language.
I don’t suppose that Marden is making an attempt to make language, however trying on the work and drawings I started to suppose that there’s an asemic ingredient to those works that shouldn’t be ignored. That is notably true of the portray “Chalk” (oil, charcoal, and graphite on linen, 96 by 72 inches, 2013-21), which appears to have reworked all the pieces that Marden has beforehand finished into one thing recent — without delay 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 under. 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 under is a mustard yellow infused with inexperienced — obliquely complimentary colours. The band additionally stirs up associations with Chinese language scroll portray, through which the work is mounted on yellow silk.
Inside every sq. of the grid, Marden has used white to render a rounded kind, typically as an open line and different instances a bisected kind, 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 that means we will 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, in order that they develop into a selected hue. Among the purple drips down the greenish band.
“Chalk” is a layered portray or palimpsest through which Marden brings collectively completely different supplies — graphite, pencil, and oil paint — and two monochromatic grounds, with additional marks and features made on the bigger space. In distinction to his penchant for management, which actually 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 for the reason that terre verte items. His use of asemic indicators acknowledges that one can not say all the pieces in language, and that some a part of our expertise stays indecipherable. And but, figuring out this, he doesn’t arrive on the identical vacancy twice; he by no means turns this incapability to write down 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 getting old 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 type:
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 seems 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 getting old man dwelling in time, whereas conveying his love for sure locations and sights. I believe they’re among the many most open, deeply transferring 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.