SynopsisConrad Marca-Relli was a Boston-born painter and sculptor who belonged to the early generation of New York School Abstract Expressionist artists. Following a period of painting Surrealist inspired imagery, Marca-Relli made a critical breakthrough with large-scale collage paintings that frequently drew inspiration from the human form to create abstract compositions of interlocking curves and angles. He is considered to be one of the first artists to raise the art of collage to a status comparable with monumental painting, which paved the way for the large "combine paintings" of the Neo-Dada artists of the 1960s.
ChildhoodConrad Marca-Relli was born Corrado di Marcarelli in Boston, Massachusetts to Italian immigrant parents. Marca-Relli's father was a news commentator and a journalist whose job required frequent travel, he therefore spent much of his childhood moving back and forth between the United States and Europe. He began to draw at an early age and was encouraged by his family to pursue his artistic interests, taking his first lessons during his many extended trips to Italy. There he developed a lasting feeling for the heritage of Italian art and culture and the atmosphere of European life. When he was thirteen, Marca-Relli and his parents permanently settled in New York, where Marca-Relli finished his last year of high school at night so he could dedicate his days to painting.
Early TrainingWith the exception of a year's study at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1930, Marca-Relli was largely a self-taught painter. Following his year at Cooper Union, he established his own studio and managed to earn an income by teaching and producing occasional illustrations for the daily and weekly press. Like many of his contemporaries, Marca-Relli later supported himself by working for the Works Progress Administration, first as a teacher and then with the easel and mural painting divisions of the Federal Art Project. This period was vitally important as it not only enabled Marca-Relli to fully dedicate his time and energy to his art, but also introduced him to a community of artists, such as , and Franz Kline, who exposed him to artistic concepts of modernism. After serving in the army during World War II, Marca-Relli returned to New York to paint. His work initially depicted stark imagined cityscapes and circus scenes influenced by the work of Giorgio de Chirico and Henri Rousseau before he turned to a form of colorful biomorphic abstraction in the early 1950s.
Mature PeriodIn 1947 Marca-Relli moved to Paris, then to Rome, where he exhibited for two consecutive years and formed strong connections with Italian artists such as Afro and Alberto Burri. He returned to New York in 1949 and immersed himself in the avant-garde art world in Greenwich Village, becoming a founding member of the exclusive "Eighth Street Club". The "Club" was a center for lectures and discussion and provided a supportive environment for the Abstract Expressionists. In the spring of 1951 the club organized an exhibition of its members, with Marca-Relli on the selecting committee. The groundbreaking Ninth Street Show was arguably the first comprehensive display of Abstract Expressionist work that garnered serious attention from art critics, dealers and the public.
In 1953 Marca-Relli purchased a house near Jackson Pollock's home in The Springs, East Hampton, an area that was at the time developing as an artists' colony. It was at this time that Marca-Relli radically altered his painting practice. During a trip to Mexico in 1953, a lack of available painting materials compelled him to experiment with collage in order to capture his impressions of the particular light, forms and textures of his surroundings. He developed a process wherein he intuitively combined oil painting and cut-out shapes, using intense colors, layered surfaces and expressionistic spattering to initially represent architectural forms and single figures that were inspired by de Kooning's depictions of women. As he cultivated this technique, he made more complex and dynamic abstract works with veiled references to landscape elements and figural imagery. These points of reference manifested themselves in shapes evocative of writhing bodies or in hues drawn from the natural environment.
Late years and DeathMarca-Relli continued to investigate the formal possibilities of collage throughout his career. From the early 1960s he gradually began to experiment with wood, aluminum and vinyl on assemblage 'paintings'. The rigidity of these new materials lead him to create carefully structured compositions of increasingly simplified forms and inspired a series of freestanding metal sculptures.
Marca-Relli's regular journeys to Europe formed an important bridge between art circles on both sides of the Atlantic. He lived and worked in London, Florida, New Jersey, Ibiza, Spain and Paris whilst maintaining a particularly close, lifelong connection to Italy and its art world. In his final years, he lived in Parma with his wife, Anita Gibson (whom he married in 1951). Marca-Relli became an honorary Italian citizen the year before his death in 2000. That same year the Mathildenhohe Institute in Darmstadt presented a career retrospective of his work.
LegacyMarca-Relli's nomadic lifestyle prevented close association with the New York School; indeed, much critical attention was focused on his closest friends rather than on his own work. Yet he is widely admired by artists and critics alike for the richness and variation of his uniquely constructed images. A revived interest in his contribution to the Abstract Expressionist movement has been expressed in the recent publication of a catalog raisonne by David Anfam.
Below are Conrad Marca-Relli's major influences, and the people and ideas that he influenced in turn.
Giorgio De Chirico
Years Worked: 1953 - 2000
QuotesPainting has nothing to do with imitating life. It has a life of its own life, in it reality is based on its own rules. (Agee, William C. Conrad Marca-Relli. New York : Whitney Museum of American Art, 1967, p. 59)
Collage forces you to think and clarify ideas, with regard to both space and volumes. This discipline obliges me to think in terms of forms, outlines, real and imagined spaces, so as not to fall into the temptation of thinking that nature is a reality. (Giralt-Miracle, Daniel. Marca-Relli. Barcelona : Ediciones Poligrafa, 1976, p. 25)
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Museum of Modern Artwww.MoMA.org
Metropolitan Museum of Artwww.METmuseum.org
By David Anfam
By Conrad Marca-Relli
Marca-Relli: [exhibition] John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, November 6th, 1979 through January 1st, 1980 (Unknown Binding)
Conrad Marca-Relli, Collagist and Painter, Is Dead at 87
Thursday, August 31, 2000
The New York Times
By Michael Kimmelman
Conrad Marca-Relli, The Early Years
By Carter Ratcliff
Marca-Relli Pastes a Painting
By Parker Tyler
|Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism Page
|Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem De Kooning Page
|Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock Page
|Paolo Uccello was an Italian Renaissance painter and a notable friend of Donatello. Uccello painted primarily in a Gothic tradition, focusing more on color and fine detail in his work, which went against the preferred style of Classical realism.
|Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting, and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso Page
|Georges Braque was a modern French painter who, along with Pablo Picasso, developed analytic Cubism and Cubist collage in the early twentieth century.
ArtStory: Georges Braque Page
|Giorgio de Chirico was a Greek-Italian painter and sculptor commonly associated with Surrealism. Initially discovered by Picasso and Apollinaire in France, de Chirico's best-known Surrealist paintings incorporated metaphysical subject matter and sculptural still-life. Instead of land- or cityscapes, de Chirico's art is more emblematic of a dreamscape.
ArtStory: Giorgio De Chirico Page
|Franz Kline was an American abstract painter and one of the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism. His signature black-and-white abstractions were inspired by Japanese calligraphy, and inspired a later generation of artists who created Minimalism.
ArtStory: Franz Kline Page
|Eleanor Ward was an American art collector and gallery owner. In 1953 she opened the Stable Gallery in New York, which in addition to showcasing several Abstract Expressionist works was also where Andy Warhol had his first solo exhibition.
|Philip Guston was a Canadian painter during the 20th century. Initially associated with the New York School of abstract art, Guston famously abandoned pure abstraction in the 1950s and turned to figurative art and quasi-abstract cartoon imagery. His later work, for which he is best known, was a major influence on the development of Neo-Expressionism in the U.S.
ArtStory: Philip Guston Page
|Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism Page
|Metaphysical art was developed in 1917 by Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carra. It created a sense of mystery through the use of dreamlike imagery; objects often appeared in strange, unfamiliar contexts. A reaction against Cubism and Futurism, Metaphysical art paved the way for Surrealism.
|Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
ArtStory: Constructivism Page
|Afro Basaldella (known simply as Afro) was a member of Scuola Romana, an Expressionist-inspired Italian movement of painters. His abstract paintings, considered by some to exist in the tradition of Arp and Picasso, have been characterized as Neo-Cubist. Afro is considered one of the most important post-War Italian artists of the 20th century.
|Alberto Burri was a 20th-century Italian abstract painter and sculptor. His life's work has been characterized into Abstract Expressionism, Lyrical Abstraction and Art Informel.
|Harold Rosenberg was a critic, art historian, and curator who published important works on modern art and culture. He was a leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism, and coined the term "Action Painting."
ArtStory: Harold Rosenberg Page
|Leo Castelli was an American art collector and gallery owner. His Castelli Gallery in New York, which opened in 1957, held several groundbreaking shows that revealed to the art world works by such artists as Rauschenberg and Johns. Castelli's gallery was considered an early proving ground for Neo-Dada, Pop, and Minimalist art.
ArtStory: Leo Castelli Page
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|Art Informel, otherwise known as Tachisme or lyrical abstraction, was the European equivalent of Abstract Expressionism during the 1940s and 50s. Artists associated with the movement included Jean Dubuffet, Hans Hartung and Alberto Burri. Like the American Action painters, the Tachists emphasized the importance of spontaneity and emotion.