Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Brice Marden Retrospective

Brice Marden, Epitaph Painting 5, 1997-2001, oil on linen, 9' 1/2" x 8' 8", Collection of Richard and Betty Hedreen
I can't remember the day when I was introduced to Brice Marden's work, but what I do know is that from then on I was a follower. At first I thought his work was very similar to Pollock, both artists filling the surface of the picture with energetic, organic shapes that moved around the plane like dancing sneaks. But here is where the similarities end. Marden's work has a more natural and serene ambiance, something that seems very meditative. His compositions are calculated and executed in a calm and moving way, as opposed to arriving at them by chance and spontaneity. In the past recent years Brice Marden's work has received a lot of attention and the number of publications on the artist's paintings has increased at fast rate, raising my awareness and admiration for his abstractions.
Marden has been an active painter since the 1960's, and as recognition of his achievements the MoMA has mounted the first retrospective on his work, a show spanning over forty years of abstract painting. This ten gallery exhibit was the first time I got to experience Marden's work and I could not get enough. When walking through the first gallery you are greeted by a small room containing his one tone, oil and beeswax painting. Considering them minimalist is an unfair label, since the presence of the artist at work is evident in each piece. Within this group of paintings one can see at the bottom edge an area where tape had been removed, exposing some of the canvas, and then letting drips and flicks of paint fall over it.
Moving along through the exhibition the use of color is explored further, with paintings made of two or more panels, diptychs and triptychs, creating beautiful color harmonies reminiscent of Color Field painting. The main impact of the retrospective is Marden's "calligraphic" paintings with its early beginnings in 1971, after the artist visited and then moved to Hydra, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Inspired by the land and history of the setting, his new work became looser and poetic. The work from this period was setting him up for his new style, a visual language Marden has been utilizing and modifying through the 80's 90's and present.
Marden's use of color became more neutral as the paint applications became more transparent. Paintings like the Cold Mountain series were reminders of foggy days in the wilderness when the play between tree branches and clouds of fog mix together obscuring and clarifying things simultaneously between foreground and background. Marden is one of many abstract painters who draw their inspiration from light, atmosphere, and other natural elements. Some the his paintings make use of a soft golden yellows that look like sun light breaking through the fog after a rainy day.

Brice Marden, Dragons, 2000-2004, ink on paper, 40 1/2" x 29 1/4", Private collection

Marden unleashes his use of color even more in his recent work, with rich reds, purples, and oranges. What at one time seemed to be natural light has now been replaced with "color light." Paint layers are more opaque leaving saturated color to reflect light its own way, with no connections to landscape. Even though the newer paintings don't have the misty feel of earlier work, the idea of nature is still present. Some the most recent work deals with the imagery of rocks; not representative but inspired by their shapes. Marden has also been inspired by Asian culture, especially Asian art. Dragons, an ink drawing/painting is a perfect example of that.

On November 20, I had the privilege to attend an artist talk with Brice Marden at the Strand. This was a very informal gathering as the artist, after being introduced by the Co-owner of Strand, Marden opened up the discussion by taking questions. It is here when I get to find out the meaning of "rocks" in his work. According to the artist, rocks were used by Chinese scholars in their studios as way to remind them of nature. And as mentioned above, his work is based on nature, not as "depiction" but as capturing the feeling of being in it; and about free association of energies like the energies of water and land used in Asian landscape painting.

Here I am standing next to Brice Marden as he signs the catalog for his retrospective.

On this occasion I wrote down a few quotes by Mr. Marden that I thought were right on point:

"Nature is everything but us."

"You take this colored dirt and make magic." (Talking about pigments)

"Andy Warhol is over appreciated."

"A work of art is a renewable source of energy." (Marden here quotes one of his favorite writers.)


Christopher said...

Hooray! Nice post - the photos at the MoMA are a nice touch (you sneak!) ...I think it's wonderful you had the opportunity to have your photo captured with Brice (listen to me, as if I know him personally :) - everything about the show was GREAT.

Luis Colan said...

thanks, I don't know how I sneaked those pictures at the end but the guard was being lazy and was some where in lala land. I took advantage of that! Too bad I wasn't able to do it earlier in the show. :( I'm very happy you enjoyed the show, it was nice to look at it with you. There'll be more to come I hope.


Darren Maurer said...

I just finished watching a program on Iowa Public television about this show and Brice. I enjoyed listening to him discuss his paintings and hearing his take on art in general. Then I check out your blog and here it is again.

Luis Colan said...

Hi Darren, I enjoyed listening to his take on art at the artist talk he gave at the Strand. There were many things he said that clicked in me. I'm very happy you got to see that TV show, I'll have to look for it here in NY. Take care and happy Thanksgiving!!!