An important American painter, draftsman and printmaker, Brice Marden’s art progressed from monochromatic Minimalist works to abstractions composed of looping and crossing lines inspired by Asian calligraphy and landscapes, painted or drawn against contrasting backgrounds. Born in Bronxville, N.Y. in 1938, Marden grew up in suburban Westchester County, north of New York City. Museum visits to Manhattan and a gift subscription to the magazine ArtNews led to his decision to abandon his interest in hotel management and study art. He began at Florida Southern College, and after a year transferred to Boston University, where he took the traditional academic studio art program. His course work included classes in painting, drawing and printmaking. After his graduation in 1961, he was invited to attend Yale’s Summer School of Music and Art, which led to his acceptance in the master’s degree program at Yale’s School of Art and Architecture. During his two years at Yale his work became more abstract under the influence of the faculty there. After his graduation in 1963, he moved to New York City with his wife Pauline Baez, whom he had married in 1960, and their young son. His first solo exhibition was in December 1963 at the Wilcox Gallery of Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA. To support himself and his family he took a job a guard at New York’s Jewish Museum, where he studied the 1964 retrospective exhibition of the works of Jasper Johns (b. 1930). Marden began painting works that were virtually monochromatic, with slight variations in tone and hue, sometimes incorporating beeswax, often on large canvases. He and his family went to Paris in the summer of 1964, joining his wife’s parents who lived there. Rubbings he made of the rectangular wall tiles in the kitchen led to drawings with a grid over a monochromatic background. After about four months Marden separated from his wife and returned to New York. He found work first at a framing shop and then at the Chiron Press, a silkscreen print shop, where he mixed inks and occasionally pulled prints for such artists as Robert Indiana (b. 1928) and Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997). Marden began four years of work as Robert Rauschenberg’s (1925-2008) assistant in 1966, the year of his first New York solo show was at the new Bykert Gallery. His work appeared in solo and group exhibitions at the Bykert Gallery again in 1968 and for several years following. He met his future wife Helen Harrington in 1967; they were married in 1968. Marden started creating works using multiple canvasses, some with muted single colors but also works of two or three contrasting colors. The Parisian Galerie Yvon Lambert mounted his first solo show in Europe in 1969. Marden worked as an instructor at New York’s School of Visual Arts from 1969 to 1974 to supplement his income. Helen and Marden first visited the Greek island of Hydra in 1971, and spent many summers on Hydra thereafter. His work was included in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1969 “Annual Exhibition: Contemporary American Painting,” and in many major museum exhibitions during the years following, including the 1972 “Documenta 5” in Kassel, Germany and a solo respective exhibition of his work in 1975 at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. During the early 1970s Marden began creating drawings using a twig or branch from a tree. He later executed drawings using charcoal fastened to a long bamboo stock, with the paper mounted on a wall. His study of ancient wall paintings on a 1977 trip to Italy proved influential. During the 1980s Marden began creating abstract works of looping and coiled lines against backgrounds of subtle colors, inspired in part by an exhibition of Japanese calligraphy and a trip to South-east Asia. These “glyphs” became the singular feature of his art. In his later works he used strongly-contrasting colors in the backgrounds. His series of paintings entitled Cold Mountain was inspired by Chinese poetry. In 1991 he bought a studio at Eagles Mere, in the mountains of north-eastern Pennsylvania, where the landscape inspired his works. A mid-19909s trip to China and Japan gave him new ideas regarding form and color. In 2000 he began working on series of drawings and paintings he subsequently named The Propitious Garden of Plane Image. These included two sets of six large painted canvasses exploring the color spectrum, shown in a 2006 retrospective exhibition of his paintings and drawings at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The longest, The Propitious Garden of Plane Image, Third Version, is 24 feet long (2000-2006, New York: Museum of Modern Art). He created another studio in Tivoli, on the Hudson River in upstate New York with views of the river and the Catskill Mountains to the west, to supplement his studios in Pennsylvania and Manhattan, where he continues to create his distinctive art. (TNB 7/2014) Selected bibliography: Costello, Eileen. Brice Marden. New York: Phaidon Press Limited, 2013. Garrels, Gary, et al. Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective. Exhibition catalog. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2006.
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