Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet lines bend, loop, and twist within six panels whose backgrounds are each defined by one of these colors. As if to capture the sensibility of drawing in this work, Marden used his customary long-handled brush, which also allows him enough distance to see what emerges as he is working.
“The paintings are made in a highly subjective state within Spartan limitations,” Marden wrote in 1963, identifying a long-standing desire to achieve personal expression through his own experiments with abstraction. During one such exploration in the 1980s, Marden, after a trip to Asia, studied calligraphy and began integrating ribbonlike lines into his works. The lively quality of these lines and the reworked surfaces of his panels reveal an intuitive sensibility embedded within self-imposed constraints, which here take the form of a preselected number of panels and lines, reflecting the basic divisions of color in the visible spectrum.
Marden often draws on the cultural traditions of the places he visits, whether by adopting a horizontal format that echoes classical Greek friezes or rendering fantastical silhouettes derived from Chinese scholars’ rocks. The artist completed this momentous work at his upstate New York studio, which is surrounded by greenery. As the painting’s title recalls, the garden is an ancient motif for change, growth, and renewal—all of which are captured in Marden’s dynamic treatment of his environment.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)