Brice Marden: A Retrospective of Paintings and Drawings


Brice Marden. Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge). 1989–91

(American, born 1938)
Oil on linen, 108 x 144" (274.3 x 365.8 cm). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Purchased through a gift of Phyllis Wattis

: In this gallery we again have a single series of works.

BRICE MARDEN: Again, it was doing a group to sort of sum up, trying to figure out where you were and how to get beyond it.

: There were six paintings in this series altogether. Where does this title come from, Cold Mountain?

BRICE MARDEN: Cold Mountain is a group of poems written in the Tang dynasty, about 700 AD by a hermit poet named Han Shan, and they’re landscape oriented poems. I based these paintings on the form of the poems.

I worked them the same way you write Chinese, from top to bottom, right to left, and it worked very good for me because I’m left handed, so I didn’t smear or anything as I was going across.

: The single forms remain in very residual way underneath the overall flowing lines of the painting.

BRICE MARDEN: That’s true. But then, I started incorporating things that are in the poems. This painting is subtitled Bridge, the mystical bridge you crossed over to go from the real to the more supernatural. And this bridge supposedly existed in these mountains where Han Shan lived. They claim he would write poems on walls of caves, on bark of trees, and then later people found them in the woods and collected them.

: Han Shan was a Zen poet, and his poetry could be characterized as a spiritual search. Is that another kind of resonance that one would see in this work?

BRICE MARDEN: I was responding very strongly to the poetry at the time. But I can never say that I’m trying to put something spiritual into a painting. If I do try to put anything spiritual into the painting, it’s the fact that I accept the spiritual or other possibilities in painting. And when people say painting is dead, I just think, What? Are you kidding? I haven’t begun to explore the possibilities.

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