Han Shan Exit 1 & 3, 1993
etching and aquatint on twin rocker
15 x 11.25 inches
Courtesy of P. S. Wada
Opening Reception Saturday, November 13, 6-8pm
Brice Marden: Prints, 1983-1998, explores Marden’s departure from monochromatic single-panel paintings that were a signature trademark during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Marden’s art is now one of fusion. At a time when many artists seek to eliminate any trace of the artist's hand or process, Marden began to emphasize the specificity of touch in the early 1980’s—introducing emotion and gesture in a unique marriage of 19th Romanticism with the formal Modernism of the 20th century. This survey of prints from 1983 through 1998 charts the course of the artist’s mature development.
The first works in this show, Untitled # 38, 1-4 were created immediately following Marden’s 1983 trip to Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. After sketching seashells found on the beaches of Thailand, he developed an interest in natural forms and worked to incorporate them into his abstraction. For a time, he stopped painting entirely. A visit to an exhibition of calligraphic art in 1984 compelled him to experiment with different drawing material such as brush and ink, and even twigs instead of brushes. He first began using twigs from the ailanthus trees in his New York back yard, and then bamboo, hemlock, or whatever else he picks up during his extensive travel. Untitled #38, 1-4, a suite of four screen prints on handmade Japanese paper, gives initial evidence of Marden’s shift from an interest in the grid. While still within the formal confines of Minimalism, these prints portray gesture, clearly showing the mark of a brush to create abstract rectangles.
After a trip to Suzhou, China, the artist became interested in the verses of the eighth century Chinese poet Han Shan (literally translated as Cold Mountain)--for whom he named a series of drawings and prints. Unable to read Chinese characters, Marden nevertheless used the calligraphic structure of Han Shan's poems as starting points for organizing graphic marks. In Han Shan’s Exit, 1-6, a suite of etchings and aquatints from 1993, we see the poet’s work first realized as lines that unfold to reveal form before dissolving back into line.
In 1995 Marden traveled to Japan, China, and Hong Kong where was deeply moved by the asceticism, refined geometries, and meticulously framed vistas of the Japanese rock gardens. But it was only when he got to China and the rock gardens at Suzhou that he fully grasped the spiritual resonance and compositional authority of this ancient art form. Marden has said that he “got it,” all at once, when Suzhou’s famous “Cloud-Capped Peak” came into view. It was instantly clear to him how a rock could be the subject of veneration.
In China, rocks may be venerated as mountains or as isolated boulders found nature, or in the more carefully composed landscapes of a formal garden where gongshi, (known as “scholar’s rocks” in China or as “spirit rocks” in the West), are transported at great expense from remote locations. The term gongshi comes from the characters for “respect” and “stone.” Marden bought his first spirit rock in 1995, and now has a number of fine examples, which he keeps in view in his studios.
In Suzhou, 1-4, a series of four etchings and aquatints from 1996-98, Marden displays the heightened colors and calligraphic gestures of work that truly expands the strictures of Minimalism. By incorporating landscape and figure into his work, Marden manages to connect to both Abstract Expressionism and non-Western traditions while remaining true to the muted gesture of his early beginnings.
Born in Bronxville, NY in 1938, Brice Marden attended Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida before transferring to the Boston University’s School of Fine and Applied Arts (now College of Fine Arts), where he earned a BFA in 1961. Following graduation from BU, he entered Yale’s School of Art and Architecture, where he studied with artists, Alex Katz, Phillip Pearlstein, Gabor Peterdi, Reginald Pollack, Jon Schueler, Jack Tworkov, and Esteban Vicente. His fellow students included future artists Richard Serra and Chuck Close, Nancy Graves, Robert Mangold, and Richard Serra. He earned his MFA in painting in 1963.
While at Yale (then under the direction of Joseph Albers), Marden developed formal strategies that characterized the artist’s early drawing and painting. Preoccupied with rectangular formats, he employed a muted, extremely individualized palette to create monochrome diptychs or triptychs now considered highly emotional—removed from the cold formalism that marks some examples of Minimalist work. Early notable works include The Dylan Painting, 1966; Fave, 1969 (now in Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, Austin); and Lethykos (for Tonto), 1976 (now at the Museum of Modern Art, New York).
After graduation from Yale, Marden relocated to New York where he became acquainted with the work of Jasper Johns while working as a guard at the Jewish Museum’s 1964 retrospective of John’s work. In 1966, upon recommendation of artist Dorothea Rockburne, he was hired by Robert Rauschenberg to work as Rauschenberg’s studio assistant. Later that same year, Marden had his first solo exhibition in New York’s Bykert Gallery, where he exhibited the first of his classic oil-and-beeswax paintings.
Marden's paintings often come as the result of experience, often from travel or in reaction to spending time in a specific place. The light and landscape of the Greek island of Hydra, where Marden and his wife have visited each year since 1971, have inspired many works, including his five Grove Group paintings, 1972–1980; and his Souvenir de Grèce works on paper, 1974–1996. In 1983, Marden and family traveled to Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India where the artist became fascinated by the art, landscape, and culture of Asia. A subsequent visit to the exhibition Masters of Japanese Calligraphy, 8th-19th Century in 1984, caused Marden to experiment with calligraphic forms and directly inspired his acclaimed Cold Mountain series, both paintings and works on paper, 1989-1991.
In 2000, Marden embarked on the most ambitious paintings of his career: The Propitious Garden of Plane Image, the longest two of which measure 24 feet wide. These gestural, curvilinear works serves to modify Marden’s early inquiry into formalism, flatness, and materiality. Subtle textures presented in early monochrome panels have now matured into skeins of lyrical marks and looping gesture that mark him as one of America’s most unique and influential artists.
American poet John Yau addresses the significance of Marden’s recent curvilinear work, pointing out its similarity to Romanticism—a period in literature and art when “intellect [was subordinated] to emotion, the critical to the creative, cleverness and wit to tenderness and pathos." While the romantic impulse sets Marden apart from the bare objectivity of his contemporaries, it does serve to connect him with ideals of the Abstract Expressionists who believed that emotion played a key component in one’s ability to create.
Marden is now internationally renowned, presenting work in solo exhibitions for more than 40 years, including shows at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Documenta IX, Kassel; and the Serpentine Gallery and Tate Gallery, London. In 2006 the Museum of Modern Art, New York presented a retrospective exhibition of Marden's work, which received international acclaim. Writing for The New Yorker, the critic Peter Schjeldahl described him as "the most profound abstract painter of the past four decades."
For more info about the artist and his work, www.matthewmarks.com.