Brice Marden (b. 1938)
Brice Marden (b. 1938)
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Brice Marden (b. 1938)

African Drawing 10

Brice Marden (b. 1938)
African Drawing 10
signed and dated 'B. Marden 11-12' (lower center)
Kremer inks on paper
14 ¾ x 11 in. (37.5 x 27.9 cm.)
Drawn in 2011-2012.
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Brice Marden, exh. cat., New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, 2016, p. 41 (illustrated).
New York, Matthew Marks Gallery, Brice Marden: New Paintings and Drawings, November-December 2015.

Lot Essay

“[Drawing] is an intimate medium. It’s very direct, it’s very close... The less you have between you and what you’re making, the better”—Brice Marden

(B. Marden, quoted in G. Garrels, "Beholding Light and Experience: The Art of Brice Marden," in G. Garrels (ed.), Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, New York, 2006, p. 21)

Arguably the most important abstract painter to emerge from the Minimalist era, Brice Marden continues to mine the limitless powers of his imagination, all the while working within a distinctly personal abstract idiom. The following selection of works on paper presents a thorough cross-sampling of Marden’s most resonant themes, while also demonstrating the voracious appetite of its keen-eyed patron, the New York art collector and bon vivant Paul Walter.

Throughout his career, drawing has remained an especially important medium for Marden, who has pursued the genre regularly, and with ingenuity. Two exceptional early works—both Untitled—of 1964 and 1970 demonstrate the singular marriage of Minimalist precision and the meticulous application of a single color that typifies Marden’s early work. Incorporating beeswax, charcoal and graphite, they display a luxurious, velvety surface in a rich symphony of dark grey tones. The paper sheet, impregnated with beeswax, is punctuated by vestiges of the artist’s hand, bearing witness to Marden’s crucial contributions to the genre of drawing and its revitalization during the late 1960s. In the early 1970s, Marden abandoned wax in favor of ailanthus sticks dipped in ink, later developing a series of elegant, lyrical abstractions inspired by Chinese calligraphy. Several drawings in this selection typify this highly-coveted series, such as Untitled Red and Green Drawing 2 and Untitled, 1985/88—both veritable symphonies of unbroken, undulating lines.

Created during at the zenith of Marden’s early career, the subtle, shimmering surface of Untitled—rendered in 1964—makes it a seminal work in Paul Walter’s Collection. The artist most likely devised the drawing upon his return to New York in the early Fall of 1964, having spent the previous Spring and Summer in Paris, where he encountered the great civic projects of André Malraux, then France's Minister for Culture. As Marden later wrote, "They were re-plastering or stuccoing a lot of the walls. And then when I got back to New York - there were paintings that I had started at Yale, and then I just sort of reworked them, and they became more field-like" (B. Marden, quoted in G. Garrels, "Beholding Light and Experience: The Art of Brice Marden," in G. Garrels (ed.), Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, New York, 2006, p. 15)

During this era, Marden’s drawings run in tandem to his paintings, and in Untitled, 1964, he lavishes the charcoal surface of the paper sheet with the same meticulous attention as his oil and beeswax paintings, simulating the effects he had seen in Paris. The entire is sheet is covered with delicate layerings of charcoal and watercolor, so that the sheet is awash in subtle variations on a grey scale. In what first appears to be a uniform surface, after prolonged looking, the irregularities of Marden’s technique begin to arise. Vertical slashes, abrasions, and small punctures bear witness to Marden’s process, a human one that retains the decisions made by the artist’s hand. Contrary to the sleek machine-like precision of Minimalism, Marden’s work resolutely retains the hand-crafted vestige of its making, a tendency that would inform his work for decades to come.

Marden’s use of beeswax dates to as early as 1964, making it a crucial component in his early work. Perhaps not surprisingly, he first experimented with beeswax in his works on paper; it would take him nearly two years to work wax into the paintings. The 1970 Untitled demonstrates the luxurious sheen that Marden was able to tease out from the graphite when pairing it in tandem with beeswax. This important work was featured in Marden’s 2006 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and parallels a similar two-panel work on paper that he gave to the artist Robert Mangold around 1969. Marden creates a pair of opposing forces—one, rendered in graphite and beeswax on paper, mimics the smooth, monochromatic panels of his paintings, while the other, rendered in a thin layer of beeswax upon plain white paper, softly glows by nature of the thinly-applied wax.

Not simple combinations of black and white, these early monochromes are actually the carefully-calibrated result of Marden’s profound sensitivity to color, borrowing from sources as diverse as Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, the grey paintings of Jasper Johns and the darkened backgrounds of Francisco de Zurbarán. Indeed, Marden is the consummate colorist, having spent an entire career developing and perfecting his highly-nuanced hues. It is perhaps not surprising then, that the joyous palette of Marden’s work of the 1990s, which practically burst forth in their no-holds-barred palette of vibrant colors rendered in flowing, calligraphic lines feels rapturous, euphoric even. In the present selection, the 1998 work on paper Untitled Red and Green Drawing 2 is a supreme example of this finesse. A delicate symphony of sinuous, meandering color in lush, verdant greens, hot-tempered reds and delicate, ghostly white, the work displays Marden’s mastery of the calligraphic technique he devised the previous decade. As the art critic Peter Schjeldahl has written, the high-intensity palette that emerged during this era is “the most intense of his career. … Marden has an instinct for color with something special in it, like the catch in a singer’s throat that imbues a note with unexpected feeling” (P. Schjeldahl, “Into the Rainbow: Brice Marden’s Abstractions,” New Yorker, 3 June 2002, p. 97) Indeed, in Untitled Red and Green Drawing 2, Marden unleashes a chorus of joyous color in undulating skeins that flow throughout the sheet in graceful, rolling loops.

The tumult of ebullient forms that ultimately emerged in Marden's work of the 1990s were based upon an unlikely coming together of several disparate sources, including Chinese calligraphy, Greek mythology, and the inherent beauty of the natural world. In several ink on paper drawings from 1972 and '73, the genesis of this next stylistic development can be traced. Much of Marden’s work maintains a strict adherence to the geometric confines of the rectangular grid, and during the 1970s, the grid would take center stage in his work. At this time, Marden stopped mixing wax into his paint and began to experiment with the grid—varying the thickness of each line and adding oblique angles. The two Untitled drawings of ‘72 and ‘73 in Paul Walter’s Collection demonstrate the intense, dynamic grids that Marden created at this time, and though each drawing displays a similar formal construction, the artist’s variation on the theme is remarkable. Not unlike a poet whose verse is restricted to sonnet form, Marden coaxes a poetic quality from his material. Each sheet is composed of horizontal and vertical lines that are intersected by a diagonal vanishing point, yet Marden creates subtle nuances within each. At times so pencil-thin that it verges on disappearance or in other areas, thick and opaque, Marden’s line wavers, quivers, and repeats with a rhythm that recalls Mondrian’s grids and an assuredness that resonates with Malevich.

Brice Marden continues to maintain a resolutely Spartan approach to his work, never veering too far in a single direction away from the strict parameters that he established for his work so many decades ago. Throughout the course of his career, Marden has made significant contributions to the genre of drawing, helping to revitalize and reconfigure what drawing might be for an entire new generation of artists. The superb group of drawings in Paul Walter’s Collection demonstrate the ease with which Marden continually reinvented himself whilst staying true to his own personal vernacular. As the art critic Jerry Saltz has so succinctly written, “Whatever he’s thinking about, regardless of abstraction’s viability...Marden is still pursuing something primal in ways that remain transfixing” (J. Saltz, “Circuit Party,” Village Voice, June 4 2002, p. 65).

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