“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. You can accept that as energy coming through and going back out into [drawing and] painting”
(B. Marden, quoted in J. Lewison, Brice Marden: Prints 1961-1991 A Catalogue Raisonné, exh.cat., London 1992, p. 48).
Executed in 1993, The Virgins 10 demonstrates the unique fusion of the forms of nature and oriental calligraphy by way of Abstract Expressionism that has characterized Brice Marden’s work since the mid-1980s. Reminiscent of his preceding series, The Muses as well as his 1991 painting, Virgins, the title of the present work reflects Marden’s interest in Greek myth and magic as related to the natural world. Gone are the grids and the monochromes of his previous works, replaced now by the graceful, sinuous tracery of webbed forms in subtle colors that tumble down the surface of The Virgins 10. While there is some echo of the grid in the layout of these three pillars of variously-hued, expressive marks, it is altogether a more organic structure that underpins this work, all the more clearly linked to nature, demonstrating Marden’s quest “to make a glyph for paradise” (B. Marden, quoted in K. Kertess, Brice Marden: Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1992, p. 41).
During the mid-1980s, Marden had reached a turning point in his career when a range of influences and ideas converged and provided a new means of expression for the artist. Increasingly, he had been intrigued by the forms that nature provided, be it in the shape of shells or trees or rocks. In particular, while travelling in the Far East, he had begun to draw objects and views from his surroundings superimposed upon one another.”[Drawing] is an intimate medium,” he stated. “It’s very direct, it’s very close. There’s less between the artist and the art. There is real closeness, direct contact. A painting is about refinement of image. And drawing isn’t. I don’t think drawing is less than painting... The less you have between you and what you’re making the better. The best drawing instruments are the ones where you are what your hand is. When the hand moves with the least resistance. In a way, pencil is much less resistant than a brush” (B. Marden, quoted in G. Garrels (ed.), Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, 2006, p. 294).
In a sense, Marden was exploring the echoes, the curves and lines that occur in so many different aspects of nature, which form an underlying canvas to the entirety of existence. The swirling matrices of the net-like coloured pillars of The Virgins 10 recall those shells, trees and stones, and therefore prefigure Marden’s interest in the decorative rocks used in Chinese gardens and even the sinuous Han Dynasty statues of dancing figures that would result in paintings such as his celebrated Attendants a few years later.
In The Virgins 10, Marden is channeling nature; as such, in these deliberately spindly, coloured lines he has explored an elegant, even ephemeral, parallel means of expression to Jackson Pollock. “I sort of came back to Pollock,” Marden recalled of this period. “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” (Marden, quoted in G. Garrels (ed.), Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, 2006, p. 296).