Brice Marden (1938-2023)
Brice Marden (1938-2023)
Brice Marden (1938-2023)
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BRICE MARDEN (1938-2023)

Belle's Turquoise

BRICE MARDEN (1938-2023)
Belle's Turquoise
signed, titled and dated 'BELLE'S TURQUOISE Brice Marden 2020-2021' (on the reverse)
oil on linen
96 x 72 in. (243.8 x 182.9 cm.)
Painted in 2020-2021.
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Brice Marden: These paintings are of themselves, November-December 2021, pp. 44, 55-59 and 101 (illustrated).

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Kathryn Widing
Kathryn Widing Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

An intoxicating example of what Brice Marden once referred to as paint’s ‘shamanistic’ qualities, Belle’s Turquoise is an exemplary example of the profound and deeply poetic canvases for which he is celebrated. Ultimately devoting his six-decade long career to these enigmatic forms, from his early monochromatic paintings of the 1960s to the colorful lyricism of his ‘calligraphy paintings, Marden was able to demonstrate that his prolonged study of what he termed the “plane image” gave him access to a deeper, richer, and more sublime pictorial realm. Painted in 2020-21, Belle’s Turquoise offers up a hauntingly-beautiful glimpse into this inner world, where a softly-veiled web of colorful, meandering lines is offset by a light-filled panel at the lower edge. In this, one of the last paintings Marden would exhibit before his death earlier this year, the complex interplay of color, texture and form can be seen as the poetical culmination of his impressive, sixty year career.

A visually majestic—yet conceptually rigorous—painting veiled in translucent blue washes, Belle’s Turquoise combines the lyrical abstraction of Marden’s calligraphy paintings with the minimalist elegance of his monochromes. Here, the artist has used a long brush to delineate a tangled network of wiry, sinuous lines, which snake in and out of a watery, blue realm in muted red and orange tones. The eye follows the curvature of each line, which flows up and around in tight twists, double-backs and ninety-degree angles. Certain lines end abruptly in mid-air, while others change color halfway through. The ghosted remains of previous lines linger just below the surface, bearing witness to the weeks, months and years of continuous revision and refinement that were part of Marden’s intuitive process. The sliver of light along the lower edge has the effect of intensifying the color relationships in the area above it, whilst also acting as a reservoir for its many drips. The sinuous linear elements feel electric, but also submerged—muted, almost like an echo of their former selves.

Belle’s Turquoise belongs to a specific subset of the long-running series of calligraphy paintings that Marden pursued for over three decades. In this body of work, he included a distinctive color panel along the lower edge of the painting, where the liquid pigment of the upper register drips down over the lower one, creating a lush passage filled with colorful streams. Marden first tried this new format while painting the monumentally-scaled commission called Moss Sutra with the Seasons (2010-15) based on the four seasons at Glenstone, the contemporary art museum near Washington, D.C. In each of these five panels, the strip of empty canvas along the lower edge acts as a kind of poetic coda to that of the upper register. Marden seemed to enjoy this interesting new relationship, which could be seen as the synthesis between his earlier monochromes and the later calligraphy paintings. He also acknowledged the formal similarities to Mark Rothko’s iconic canvases, in which a larger form is balanced atop of a smaller one. “A lot of it comes out of Rothko,” he explained. “What I like is the way the top area sits on the bottom. You can look at It as a simple block of color that’s sitting on a floor, edge, ridge [or] stage” (B. Marden, quoted in “Brice Marden in Conversation with Matt Connors,” in Brice Marden: New Paintings and Drawings, exh. cat., Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, 2015, p. 82).

In 2007, while his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art was still on view, Marden set out on an epic trip around the world. He went first to Taipei, where he visited the National Palace Museum, and viewed an example of Chinese calligraphy from the eleventh century by the Sung dynasty poet Huang T’ing-chien. In this poem, each of the characters had been written top to bottom, forming five distinct columns of text, with the body of the poem offset by wide margins on either side. This visual device prompted a series of calligraphy paintings that Marden called his Letter paintings. In this new body of work, the linear elements were more tightly coiled, and the color harmonies more daring, featuring shades heretofore not seen in his work, such as bright yellow, white, tea green and orange. Also in Taiwan, Marden encountered an exquisite piece of Chinese “Ru ware” pottery from the Song dynasty. The iconic gray-green color of the Ru ware inspired him to return to monochromatic painting again, with Ru Ware Project, painted in 2007-2012. Marden also became fascinated with a particular shade of green known as “terre verte” (which dates back to Renaissance figure painting), devoting an entire series of monochromatic paintings for which he used different brands of that color.

The visit cemented Marden’s fascination with Chinese poetry, which he first encountered in the early 1980s while visiting Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. Later, in 1984, he visited an exhibition at the Asia Society in New York entitled Masters of Japanese Calligraphy, 8th to 19th Century. These two events precipitated the development of the Cold Mountain drawings, in which Marden used long acanthus sticks dipped in ink to create a series of abstract cyphers on a white ground. Marden also looked to scholar’s rocks and studied patterns of natural growth in the world around him, finding inspiration in seashells, mountains and trees.

For years now, Marden had been spending much of his time in Tivoli, in upstate New York, where he and his wife Helen owned a sprawling property called Rose Hill. As an artist who has long been influenced by the natural world, whether on the Greek island of Hydra, or in the Caribbean Island of Nevis, Marden’s studio in Tivoli afforded him the time to study and reflect on the changing colors of the seasons. At Rose Hill, he had time to observe the slowly moving Hudson River and spend time in the moss garden he cultivated there. His daughter Mirabelle, a photographer who co-founded the influential Rivington Arms gallery, believes that each location inevitably pervades her father’s work.

Marden’s paintings are frequently titled after the place or idea that inspired them. In the 1960s, many of Marden's monochromatic paintings were named in homage to some of his cultural heroes, as in The Dylan Painting (1966/86, SFMoMA), For Pearl (1970, Glenstone) and Star (For Patti Smith). More recently, several paintings were titled after his wife, Helen Marden, as in Helen’s Moroccan Painting, a 1980 panel painting consisting of red and green halves, and Helen’s Immediately, a small painting on marble of 2011. Throughout his career, Marden captured and distilled something essential of each person or place in his paintings, and this particular mysterious quality was known only to him. Considering his penchant, then, for naming paintings for those closest to him, it is tempting to conclude that Belle’s Turquoise was titled after his daughter, a fellow artist.

Painted in 2020-21, Belle’s Turquoise was included in what would prove to be Marden’s final exhibit of new work, at Gagosian Gallery in the Fall of 2021. Marden titled the exhibit These Paintings Are of Themselves, which implies that each painting both contains and embodies the abiding principles of painting itself—namely line, color and form. And ultimately, those are the three parameters to which Marden had dedicated his entire life’s work.

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