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Brice Marden (b. 1938)
Brice Marden (b. 1938)
Brice Marden (b. 1938)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from an Important Private Collection
Brice Marden (b. 1938)

Butterfly Wings with Green

Brice Marden (b. 1938)
Butterfly Wings with Green
signed and dated ‘B. Marden 05’ (lower right)
ink on paper
11 x 15 in. (27.9 x 38.1 cm.)
Executed in 2005.
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2006
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Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Painted in 2005, Brice Marden’s Butterfly Wings with Green dynamically captures the specific fusion of varied and diverse sources of inspiration—including Abstract Expressionism, the natural world, and elements of Chinese culture—that has characterized the artist’s works since the mid 1980’s. In this anfractuous labyrinth, spirited strings of sage-green, marigold, and black ink weave and intermingle, pulsing with energy. In this work, Marden balances positive and negative space, allowing the depicted ribbons of color to dance in, out, and along the blank paper, infusing the work with perceivable depth. A complex network of sinuous lines, Marden’s Butterfly Wings with Green is map to an unknown destination. "Ideally, someone picks a line and follows it all the way through, picks another color, follows it all the way through,” the artist has said, resulting in a new personal journey waiting to be discovered around the each and every turn (B. Marden, quoted in J. Yau, "An Interview with Brice Marden," E. Keller & R. Malin, (eds.), Brice Marden, exh. cat., Zurich, 2003, p. 58).

The curlicues throughout Butterfly Wings with Green, which reach to all four edges of the periphery, bely an impressive expansiveness and physical energy, considering the work’s intimate scale. At first glance, the snaky vines of color seem randomly placed. Upon close inspection, however, this collection of mobius strips and meandering paths evinces an exceptional and refined gestural quality. For Marden, "[Drawing] is an intimate medium. It's very direct, it's very close. There's less between the artist and the art. There is real closeness, direct contact," as if artist and ink are one in the same (Marden, quoted in G. Garrels (ed.), Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, 2006, p. 294).

Though Marden’s works often defy categorization, the trails and curves in the present example are clearly derived from the artist’s connection to the Abstract Expressionist movement and from his familiarity with Jackson Pollock. "I sort of came back to Pollock," Marden says. "He doesn't apply the image; he lets the image evolve out of the activity. And for me, this is very important, and it's basically what I'm exploring in my own work" (ibid., p. 296). Unencumbered by an ultimate vision, Marden’s webs of ink are deeply precise, but never pre-planned. An act of constant discovery, the process is autonomous, ever-evolving, and leaves much of the cerebral and psychological work to the viewer.

The direct influence for Butterfly Wings with Green’s style and form can be traced back to the mid-1980’s during which time a confluence of disparate influences lead Marden to develop a new visual vernacular. Abandoning the monochromes and grid paintings for which he was known, Marden turned to nature for inspiration. "One day I would draw a tree, the next day we would go to the same place and I would draw a sea shell on top of it, and then the next day we would go somewhere else and I would draw rocks, and I would layer it all on top on the same drawings... You are observing nature and yet you are just trying to respond to it. You are not trying to draw a picture of it... It deals with a certain kind of abstraction” (Marden, quoted in J. Lewison, Brice Marden: Prints 1961-1991 A Catalogue Raisonné,, London, 1992, p. 48).

Moving beyond literal interpretations of the natural world, Marden took aspects of objects as reference points, manipulating and transforming them during the drawing process, so that each line records an instantaneous, experienced response to his subject. "I think my idea of form comes from observation of nature. To me, that's true form, or the best reference. You just try to keep it as interesting as that. And so you make these corrections, and sometimes you choose to leave them" (B. Marden, quoted in "Painters Paintings", ArtForum, October 2006, p. 286). The title of the present work, Butterfly Wings with Green, perhaps brings to mind the delicate tracery ornamenting the colored wings of a butterfly; in the completed picture, however, we see how this pattern found in nature might be reimagined as an abstract web of twisting swirls and color.

In 1984, Marden was exposed to the expressive, winding forms of Japanese calligraphy on display at the 1984-1985 exhibition Masters of Japanese Calligraphy, 8th-19th Century at New York's Japan House Gallery and Asia Society. About a decade later, in 1995, he then visited Japan, China, and Hong Kong, where he became fascinated by specifically Chinese calligraphy and Chinese poetry. Like Abstract Expressionism, practicing calligraphy is a full-bodied experience. "It's not a technique or an ideology; it's a form of pure expression. Each time a calligrapher makes a mark, it will be distinctive because he has a particular physicality. Great artists exploit this; their thinking and their physicality become one” (Marden, quoted in G. Garrels, ibid., p. 21). Marden’s familiarity with calligraphy is perhaps most responsible for his adept gestural quality—throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, he employed elements of the calligraphic technique when approaching the canvas, beginning in the upper right corner and moving in vertical columns leftwards across the support. Though Marden abandoned this literal approach by the late 1990s, he maintained the physicality of strokes growing to produce more complex, expansive networks of curved lines in his paintings and drawings in the years to come.

In China, Marden also visited the rock gardens at Suzhou, where he encountered, gongshi, commonly called “scholar rocks” in Western culture, but more aptly described as “spirt rocks.” Collected by poets and Chinese emperors, these rare specimens were “selected for their unusual and beautiful shape, good color, and material. Of prime importance are features such as holes (tou), channels (lou), thinness (shou) and wrinkles (zhou) as well as their natural forms” (ibid., p. 94). Since 1995, Marden has amassed a fine collection of his own spirit rocks, and keeps them on view in his various studios. Taking great pleasure in the individual formal variances of each stone, Marden captures the preternatural beauty of the gongshi in each intimately rendered twist and turn.

From 2003 to 2005, Marden worked on a series of drawings of rocks based on the Suyuan Stone Catalogue (1613), a comprehensive, illustrated index of renowned rock collections discovered by the early 17th century. Around the same time, the artist also became familiar with Francisco Goya’s Black Border Album. Marden, who owns a facsimile edition of the stone catalogue, took inspiration from both sources by drawing a double-edged black border along the edges of four of the five folios comprising his series of rock drawings. In Butterfly Wings with Green we see echoes of this formatting—the work is outlined, barring sections of the lower edge, in black ink. Trapped within a thin frame, the central image transforms into a venerable object—a conflagration of stunning organic shapes, curves, and crevices—which, like the gongshi or the depicted sacred rocks, solicits a deeply pensive response in the beholder.

Butterfly Wings with Green is an enthralling, dynamic example of Marden’s practice. It offers an insightful reflection of the pleasure Marden took in the natural world, and his esteem for Chinese culture. Alive with palpable energy, each line feels informed by a painterly intuition rooted in Abstract Expressionist ideals. Guiding the eyes along a hypnotic journey down untrodden roads, every tortuous path depicted in the present work abounds with new opportunities for contemplation and discovery.

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