Brice Marden: A Retrospective of Paintings and Drawings


Brice Marden. 4 (Bone). 1987–88

(American, born 1938)
Oil on linen, 84 x 60" (213.4 x 152.4 cm). Collection Helen Harrington Marden

GARY GARRELS: In the mid-‘80s your work went through a transition, and the beginning of abstract forms on the single-colored plane begin to emerge. What were some of the things that began to change the way you were thinking about your paintings?

BRICE MARDEN: I wanted to get back to a situation where on the canvas I was doing more creating rather than refining.

GLENN LOWRY: Since 1973, Marden has owned a house on a Greek island, where he spends much of his time drawing from nature.

BRICE MARDEN: In Greece, we have a very dramatic landscape, with a lot of diagonals, mountains leading down to the water. This was simultaneous with an interest in Chinese calligraphy, doing a lot of drawing in nature, and I came up with these kind of calligraphy referenced things with a lot of diagonals in them.

GARY GARRELS: In this painting, the calligraphic figures are connected with these sinuous and languid lines. Did you begin with single forms and then connect them?

BRICE MARDEN: I did, yes. I had read an essay on how you read Chinese poems, and there is all this kind of cross-referencing. You know, there’s a line and you can read the first character, the character below it, the character below it, but then you can also read them across and back and forth. So I would start joining various abstract forms I had made. Then the forms became much more complex, and you start following that, rather than some idea.

GLENN LOWRY: The painting is titled 4 (Bone).

BRICE MARDEN: The earliest examples of Chinese writing are on bones, and they use bones as oracles. And they would write on the bones and throw them into the fire, and the fire would break them apart, and they would read how they were broken apart. So that was the bone reference.

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