"The paintings are made in a highly subjective state within Spartan limitations. Within these strict confines, confines which I have painted myself into and intend to explore with no regrets, I try to give the viewer something to which he will react subjectively. I believe these are highly emotional paintings not to be admired for any technical or intellectual reason but to be felt." (Brice Marden unpublished Master of Fine Arts Thesis, Yale University, School of Art and Architecture, New Haven, 1963, p. 1)
Comprising of three painted monochrome panels combined into a single tripartite unity, Tour III is a work of appealing but deceptive simplicity that uses scale, texture, verticality, and above all pure color to generate a unique and moving ambience and a sense of energized material presence. Making use of the seemingly austere, cold and objective elements of geometry and monochrome color, Marden's work is in fact deeply personal and highly subjective. The power and the authority of his work comes from the way in which Marden, working largely intuitively, is able to imbue these simple and seemingly objective and openly abstract forms with a profound and individual sensibility and emotional power. The fascination and mystery of his work lies in the almost magical way in which Marden is able to speak and to communicate using such a restrictive and basic formal language and also in how such simplicity gives rise to a depth and profundity of emotion powerful enough to stir as complex and mysterious a thing as the human heart.
Marden has said that he begins his " work with some vague color idea; a memory of a space, a color presence, a color I think I have seen." (Brice Marden in Carl Andre, ed. "New in New York: Line work", Arts Magazine, vol. 41, no. 7, May 1967, p. 50.) This vague and usually indefinable idea determines his choice of colour, informs the development of the work and is hopefully realised through the work. Color, the essential component of Marden's art and his chief means of communication has to be pure, unadulterated, material, open, naked and direct. Towards this end, Marden developed in the mid-1960s a unique technique of mixing oil and encaustic in such a way that color developed a deep impenetrable materiality of its own. Marden had set out wanting to abolish the surface reflection that arises in paintings when using the normal technique of just oil paint and varnish and after arriving at this new and highly specialised way of painting he recognised he had also generated a way of producing color as material. This intrinsic quality of his paint largely determined his need to keep his panels monochrome, as the material nature of the color was integrally linked to the spatial confines of the canvas, both determining and being defined by the dimensions of the canvas panel. It was primarily for this reason that when Marden began to introduce a combination of colors in his work in the late 1960s and early 1970s he maintained the integrity of the monochrome panel and only added color by adding, as in this work, further autonomous panels.
The technique Marden employs involves a series of stages in which the paint is applied in layers over "a stretched and animal-skin glue sized cotton duck canvas with two coats of turps-thinned Flake White." After sanding the dried surface of the ground, Marden has explained, "I mix standard artist's oil color (paint) with a medium of wax and turpentine. (To one part melted white refined beeswax, I add four parts pure gum spirits of turpentine). This medium is kept warm (liquid) on a hot plate by my palette and small amounts are mixed in with the paint by brush just prior to applying color to the canvas. The mixture is then applied to the canvas with a brush and worked over so the medium and paint are thoroughly mixed and evenly cover the shape. The paint is then worked with a large painting spatula and a small painting knife until it arrives at a satisfactory state. I try to keep the surfaces in one painting constant and total. There are variables. Extensive heating of the medium results in some evaporation which can make the paint gummy and softer. Left-over paint, with wax added, is often used in mixing subsequent colours. I am never exactly sure of how much wax is added to the oil paint in the final surface, but oil remains the primary binder as opposed to encaustic where the wax is the binder." (Brice Marden : "Technical Statement" reproduced in Brice Marden exh. cat. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1975, p. 28.)
This specialized process generates a unique depth and materiality to the painted surface. A quality that, in his earliest paintings, Marden emphasised by leaving the bottom edge of his monochrome canvas panels bare in such a way that they openly displayed the labor-intensive process of their creation and the relief nature of their surface. In adding a variety of colors to his paintings of the late 1960s and early '70s such as Tour III, this procedural punctuation mark seemed both unnecessary and also highly disruptive to the cohesion and success of a multiple-toned work and so was abandoned. As a painting like Tour III clearly demonstrates, the success of the work relies entirely on the play and unified resonance between its three colored canvas. Tonally heavy and dark, the colors of the painting combine to radiate a single, warm and almost sonic, low-register hum. This tonal vibration, allied to the work's towering but still human scale endows its monolithic structure with mystic-seeming energy and ambience. It is a mood that connects directly and unconsciously with the viewer, exerting an emotional impact. It is only after the painting has been experienced and understood in this way that a sense of wonder is born in the mind of the viewer about how such a simple, direct and apparently objective means of expression is able to do this. Though articulated and put to use by Marden, it is a sense of wonder that the artist himself clearly shares with the rest of us and continues to pursue.
Tour III, 1972 is one of four paintings and small series of drawings: Tour, 1972, Panza Collection; Tour, 1972, Locahn Collection, Tour IV, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Brice Marden, c. 1970s Courtesy Locksley-Shea Gallery, Minneapolis
Brice Marden, 3 Deliberate Greys for Jasper Johns, 1970 National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa c 2004 Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Installation view including Tour III June 1972 c Brice Marden/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York