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Artists Brice Marden
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Brice Marden

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism

Born: October 15th, 1938 - Bronxville, NY

Brice Marden Timeline

Quotes

"To maintain any kind of life as an artist is to make change. Yet for most observers change in an artist's work is the most difficult thing to grasp."
Brice Marden
"Working on a painting is very physical...the shapes of the paintings are so closely related to the human scale, you work with them, and after a while it gets to be a dance."
Brice Marden
"I paint as I see and as I feel, and I have very strong feelings."
Brice Marden
"My work comes out of observation and acceptance of nature. Man, part of nature, absorbs and digests and pushes it back out in the form of art."
Brice Marden
"I got to a point where I could go on making 'Brice Marden paintings' and suffer that silent creative death...You get to this point where you have to make a decision to change things."
Brice Marden
"When the painting really lives...I consider it finished. When I have put all I can into it and it really breathes, I stop."
Brice Marden
"Very early on, I became conscious of the fact that art is a societal threat because it's tied so explicitly to truth."
Brice Marden
"One of the great things about art is it isn't worth anything. It's absolutely free. It's going to get made no matter what."
Brice Marden

"Color is a way of arriving at light. The illusion of light is one of the things that a painter works with, I mean, that's how you get an image. Without light there is no visible image."

Brice Marden Signature

Synopsis

Brice Marden could be likened to a chameleon. Marden himself once compared the relationship between painters and their critics as basically one big chase, where critics attempt to pin down and define artists, who are constantly working to escape the shackles of labels. At various points in his career Marden has been labeled a Minimalist and an Abstract Expressionist, but the way that he has bounced between - and away from - each of these categories has meant that his works take on an intensely personal idiom. Marden bases his art upon a wide range of experiences - new acquaintances, internal crises, and studies of literature, art history, and nature - often distilling his memories to a single key moment of inspiration. As his career has advanced, Marden's works have tended to combine his various explorations of his experiences, thereby creating "layers" of his interests between memory and form that span the full range of his activity.

Key Ideas

Unlike many of the Minimalists and Abstract Expressionists whom he studied and with whom he sometimes worked, Marden does not abandon subject matter while he reveals the process of creation and the materials he uses; instead, these often feed off one another, as the evidence of process often points to the nuanced quality of Marden's experiences that undergird his works. He has described his work occasionally as "taking one of Jackson Pollock's drips and zooming in on a piece of it."
Marden's works derive from highly specific personal experiences, much like those of Frank Stella, and without knowledge of those personal stories, our understanding of Marden's works usually remains incomplete. Often, Marden's paintings and drawings include numerous clues - dimensions that relate to moments from or facts about the subject of inspiration. Some works strive for a poetic minimalism - describing a road trip through the state of Nebraska in a single color.
Marden maintains a deep commitment to a modernist mantra of continually revising his work, sometimes "erasing" and reworking his pieces over a very long time. This has caused many to praise the very high standards he sets for himself, but to some extent it has also limited his productivity.
The difficulty of categorizing Marden's work derives in part from the way that he has gone through several different phases of his career. When he feels like he has exhausted his creativity, he looks to other, often disparate, sources of inspiration. More recently, his work has tended to become more reflective, bringing in several of these interests together in a kind of "layered" or "autobiographical" manner.

Most Important Art

Brice Marden Famous Art

Nebraska (1966)

Marden was inspired to create this painting in the wake of a cross-country drive whose route took him through the state of Nebraska, part of the vast American Great Plains, in the summer of 1966. Nebraska interested him because "[i]t was the kind of landscape that looked as though it was supposed to be very boring, but it wasn't. There were these subtle changes in the landscape [wherein] you'd suddenly go over a little rise, and there was this incredible gorge or something - not a big, huge thing, but with little trees in it.. the green I saw was exquisite." While the greenish-gray color of Nebraska does not describe a particular tree or patch of grass, it allows Marden to fuse discrete moments of sensual experience such as the subtle and transient ways that light falls on foliage, crevasses, and hillsides that typifies one's immersion within landscape.

As with the works of the mainline Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s, the revelation of process becomes an important aspect of Nebraska. Marden mixes beeswax with oil paint and turpentine, heating it before applying it to the canvas and building up a dense layer of colored wax and pigment that both absorbs and reflects light, creating a surface much like encaustic, a technique influenced by the work of Jasper Johns, which also reflects the three-dimensionality and almost object-like aspect of the work. (It is also a quality of the work that is difficult to capture in a photograph.) While Marden's goal was to minimize the shine that was reflecting off the paint on earlier works, the beeswax also better preserves individual marks made by the artist's touch. Typical of many of Marden's works from the 1960s, Nebraska also contains an unpainted horizontal band at the bottom of the canvas, which catches the visible drips of paint created while he applies it to the canvas. Thus the painting, like the landscape, becomes a series of "subtle changes," full of bumps, nicks, drips, and contours that recall Marden's own experiences of continual surprise from his drive, spread out over a vast surface, much like the expansive land area of the state of Nebraska. Nebraska might thus best be described as a distilled visual record or translation of Marden's trip, and fittingly, remains in the artist's personal collection.
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Brice Marden Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood and Education

Nicholas Brice Marden, Jr. grew up in a middle-class household in Briarcliff Manor, in Westchester County, New York, and his interest in art was influenced from an early age by a multitude of sources. His father, a mortgage servicer, would mount reproductions of paintings on both sides of Masonite panels so he could flip them over when he got tired of looking at them. In the seventh grade, Marden reports, he also experienced a revelation when he fell asleep in the woods near the old farm house where he lived, later waking up with a sense that his life had changed somehow and he knew he would become an artist. In high school, Marden's form of teenage rebellion consisted of cutting classes so he could hitchhike into Manhattan to visit the Museum of Modern Art. These visits were also sometimes facilitated by his best friend's mother, and her husband, a sometime painter who gave the young Brice a subscription to ARTNEWS magazine.

Early Training

Brice Marden Biography

After high school, Marden spent a year at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, intending to study hotel management. Just before Christmas break in 1956, his art teacher handed him a MoMA membership card with the advice to "Go see this guy [Jackson] Pollock," whose recent death in a car crash had precipitated a retrospective at MoMA at that very moment. Soon afterwards, Marden transferred to Boston University, where he earned his BFA in 1961 and lined up a teaching gig after graduation, but spent a few months that summer at the Yale Summer School of Music and Art. Impressed by his interest, Yale's faculty invited him to apply for graduate study and volunteered to cancel his teaching contract. Though classically trained, at Yale, Marden moved away from figural representation and developed an interest in Abstract Expressionism, particularly the work of Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Pollock. It was there that he also became classmates with Chuck Close, Richard Serra, Robert Mangold and Vija Celmins, and received his MFA in 1963.

In August 1960 he married Pauline Baez, sister of singer Joan Baez, and their son Nicholas was born in March 1961. Marden moved to New York City after graduating from Yale, taking a part-time job working as a security guard at The Jewish Museum, where he saw a retrospective of artist Jasper Johns in 1964. Marden still has a signed poster of Johns' work that the other guards persuaded the artist to sign since Marden was too embarrassed to ask Johns himself.

That same year Marden separated from his wife after his in-laws dragged the family to Paris for four months and his marriage "hit the skids." Pauline took Nicholas and moved to California, while Marden moved into a Lower East Side studio. There he became mixed up with the Greenwich Village music scene, especially at Gerde's Folk City. It was then that he met one of his musical heroes, Bob Dylan, and promised him that he would make him a painting in the hopes that it would help his career. Ironically, Dylan's career immediately took off after that, and by the time Marden finished The Dylan Painting in 1966, its purpose had become superfluous.

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Brice Marden Biography Continues

He began creating paintings with thicker, textured surfaces, in part inspired by Johns, which gave them a three-dimensional, sculptural quality. In 1966 he began incorporating beeswax into his paint and held his first solo exhibition in New York City, with the sale of a single painting at Klaus Kertess' gallery, which paid for a plane ticket to see his son in California. Broke, he got a job through Minimalist painter Dorothea Rockburne as Robert Rauschenberg's studio assistant for the next four years. In his spare time, Marden hung out at Max's Kansas City, a beer hall popular among artists and musicians, where he met a waitress and artist named Helen Harrington, whom he married in 1968. To help support them, Marden took a job teaching at New York's School of Visual Art, where he served on the faculty from 1969 through 1974.

Mature Period

Brice Marden Photo

Marden has frequently experimented with new creative approaches; for instance, he began moving from early monochromatic paintings to multi-paneled works that introduced a wide range of colors. Marden's travels have greatly influenced his development as an artist, particularly his time spent in Hydra, Greece, where he usually summered since his first visit in 1971. Marden has experimented with many media: in addition to works on canvas, he has produced drawings, etchings, and later paintings on marble, inspired by pieces of the rock he found while in Greece. In 1977 he received a commission in Basel to design a set of stained-glass windows for the cathedral, which ultimately came to naught after eight years of work. Back at home in New York, he got the idea to sharpen twigs he found on the street and in his backyard to use as drawing implements.

In the early '70s Marden separated from Helen, though eventually they reconciled and moved back in together, and in 1978 and 1980, his two daughters, Mirabelle and Melia, were born. However, Marden became well-known during the decade for his frequent marijuana use, though he has denied that the drug had the same creative influence on him as nature. Later in the decade Marden got into cocaine, eventually using it so heavily that his behavior became erratic, and in 1983 his wife (then oblivious to his coke habit) gave him an ultimatum to decide whether he wanted to separate again. Intensive therapy helped mend his marriage and kick the drug habit, though Marden himself has maintained in recent years that he ultimately distanced himself from drugs because he just felt tired all the time and was sick of constantly waking up on the studio floor.

Marden's problems with drugs coincided with a professional crisis that caused him to question whether he had reached the end of his creativity. He pushed his art in new directions by drawing from several alternate sources, one of which was the familiar ground tread by Jackson Pollock, whose alcoholism had caused his premature death at nearly the same age that Marden was during his period of heavy drug use. Helen dragged him on a trip to Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India in 1983-4, and, once they returned, to an exhibition of Japanese calligraphy in New York, where he became fascinated with the energy of the bold strokes of the characters in concert with the gestural forms that Pollock had painted. At the same time, Marden's curiosity with Eastern cultures also developed into an interest in the work of Tang Dynasty poet Han Shan, on whose writings he based his Cold Mountain series, beginning in 1988, which also drew inspiration from Chinese mountain and nature paintings. Later, mythology provided inspiration for Marden's work The Muses (1991-93).

Later Period

Brice Marden Portrait

In the late 1980s, Marden's demand on the art market began to take off. He was picked up by gallery owner Mary Boone on a $1 million advance against future sales of paintings. Soon other advances followed, including one from Swiss dealer Thomas Ammann and the then-young New York dealer Matthew Marks, with whom Marden has maintained a close professional relationship for now close to thirty years, and who currently represents him. Marden's paintings, as of 2016, have realized upwards of between $9 million and $11 million at auction. In 1988, Marden was named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2000, Brown University awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts.

Between 1987 and 2000, Marden located his studio in the Bowery in lower Manhattan, before moving it to his current location, a tenth-floor duplex space on West Street with a view of the Hudson River.

In 2015, Marden's exhibition of twelve paintings and twenty-five drawings at the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York featured new works that evoke the colors of nature through the use of pigments common during the Renaissance. It was the largest exhibition of Marden's work since a retrospective held at the Museum of Modern Art in 2006-07.

In addition, Marden has recently assumed the role of hotel manager. He and his wife run a hotel on Nevis, in the Caribbean, and have opened a country inn, Hotel Tivoli, in the Hudson River Valley of New York. There, Marden and his wife also maintain an estate called Rose Hill, which includes an 1843 house that also overlooks the Hudson, and a studio space in the converted carriage house. They also own a 400-acre property in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania, which includes a large barn as studio space with, curiously, almost no natural light.


Legacy

In The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl described Marden as "the most profound abstract painter of the past four decades." Marden's demonstrated ability to translate autobiographical moments and memories into visual form, often while simultaneously revealing the process behind his work, has set him apart from his peers. It has also paved the way for a new generation of contemporary abstract artists. His juxtapositions of bold, rectilinear panels of color bear comparison with the efforts of Sean Scully from the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, Marden's early "Minimalist" attempts to reproduce the luminant colors from objects and people with strong personal resonance - ceramics, important mentors, for example - have inspired artists such as Byron Kim, while the influence of calligraphic forms on Marden's work parallels the graphic explorations in painting by artists like Jose Parla. Candacee White has publicly acknowledged her debt to Marden, particularly his working method, stating, "I often stare at one line for a long time before I put down the next one, considering how it will relate the past and future lines, how close to the edge of the canvas, and so on. I like to let the line change, to get light, dark, thicker, thinner, which appears more natural."

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Brice Marden
Interactive chart with Brice Marden's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Franz KlineFranz Kline
Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Mark RothkoMark Rothko

Friends

Klaus KertessKlaus Kertess

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
MinimalismMinimalism
RomanticismRomanticism
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
Brice Marden
Brice Marden
Years Worked: 1958 - present

Artists

Nancy GravesNancy Graves
Jose ParlaJose Parla
Sean ScullySean Scully

Friends

Chuck CloseChuck Close
Robert MangoldRobert Mangold
Richard SerraRichard Serra
Vija CelminsVija Celmins

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
MinimalismMinimalism

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised by Peter Clericuzio

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised by Peter Clericuzio
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Useful Resources on Brice Marden

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The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Brice Marden: Phaidon Focus Recomended resource

By Eileen Costello

written by artist

Brice Marden: Notebook Sept. 1964-Sept. 1967

By Brice Marden

More Interesting Books about Brice Marden
Matthew Marks Gallery Recomended resource

Artsy.net

Provides a broader look at works and exhibitions. Brief bio included

Brice Marden Recomended resource

Interview
January 5, 2015

The Big Chill

New York Magazine

The Man Who Persevered When Painting Was Stalled Recomended resource

The New York Times
October 27, 2006

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