Hydra and Brice Marden’s Abstract Art star at Gagosian’s new Athens premises
Art critic Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker, described the acclaimed 81-year old artist Brice Marden as “the most profound abstract painter of the past four decades.” And for good reason. Some of his paintings have been sold for more than 10 million dollars. He is also a hotelier, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, holds an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts by Brown University and has spent nearly 50 summers in Hydra. His first solo exhibition in Greece from September 24 to December 19 marks the opening of the Gagosian Gallery’s new premises, a departure from his ‘calligraphy-infused work’ and back to the summers, he spent in the 80s on this Saronic island.
A graduate of the conservative Boston University, Brice Marden later attended the Yale School of Art where he was immersed in the Cambridge folk music world. He went on to marry Pauline Baez, Joan Baez’s sister, in 1960 with whom he had a son, Nicholas, (who became a musician in the New York punk scene in the 1970s and ’80s) and hung out with the likes of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger in Carmel, California. To provide for his young family, Marden landed a job as a guard at the Jewish Museum in New York, where he saw Jasper Johns’s 1964 exhibition. It made such an impression on him, that to this day he still adds beeswax to his paintings to improve the depth of the colour, as Johns did.
A few years later, he had his own show of monochromatic paintings and drawings at the Bykert Gallery in Manhattan. By 1968, he remarried artist, Helen Harrington and together have two daughters, Mirabelle, and Melia. (Mirabelle, is a photographer and was a proprietor of New York gallery Rivington Arms, and Melia Marden, is the executive chef at the New York restaurant, The Smile.)
Gallery mogul Larry Gagosian, who signed on Marden in 2017, described Helen and Brice Marden as “a great team.” “There’s really a great dialogue between them. She gives him the space and support to allow him to work. And Brice just wants to work.”
Ultimately, I’m using the painting as a sounding board for the spirit…You can be painting and go into a place where thought stops—where you can just be and it just comes out… I present it as an open situation rather than a closed situation.
On Marbles and Drawings inspired by Hydra
In 1971, his wife Helen took him to Hydra for the first time. It was here that Marden was at his most prolific. In the meantime, his wife Helen has played her own part in the island’s preservation. When Richard Branson tried to build a luxury resort in the fishing village of Kamini, she joined the local effort to block construction – to success. Before becoming an artist, Brice flirted with the idea of getting into hotel management, so when Helen was in her sixties, they decided to become hotel owners and are now the proprietors of two bespoke inns, one in Tivoli, New York, and the other, in Golden Rock, on the Caribbean island of Nevis.
In the late seventies,the Mardens bought their first house there on top of a hill that took 280 steps to reach. They traded up houses over the years, moving into their current summer home in 1989. Built in 1790, it’s a historic property at the port and fortified with imposing walls with lemon trees clamouring for space in the garden.
In the early 80s, Brice began painting in oils on small slabs of white marble from local quarries. With soft subdued tints, he illustrated their natural but perfect imperfections by painting bars and abstract shapes giving them new form. This ‘Hydra Period’ was to last for the next two decades and marked a turning point in Brice’s technique.
The light and landscape have greatly influenced the painter’s work, as can be seen in his five Grove Group paintings, 1972–1980 or Souvenir de Grèce works on paper, 1974–1996. Between 1981 – 87, Marden made a total of 31 paintings on marble, all of them produced in Hydra.The resulting compositions, continuing over two decades, feature bars and fields of subtle colour that tint and accentuate each stone’s dimensions, edges, unique veining and inherent textural variations. Also on view will be a group of ink drawings by Marden that employ gridded compositions and calligraphic approaches to mark-making, and relate closely to the marble works.
Brice Marden’s marble compositions marked a transitional moment in his career. Since that time, Marden has continued to make marble paintings, describing his strategy as “taking an accident and turning it into a form.”
He partially tints the stone ground with thin, translucent layers of oil paint, producing serenely coloured rectangles alongside bars of black and grey. These compositions work in harmony with each stone’s inherent texture and veining pattern; some even preserve traces of ruled graphite markers. Continuing his long-standing engagement with classical Greek themes – exemplified by earlier monumental oil-and-beeswax paintings such as Thira (1979–80), a painting composed of eighteen interconnected panels inspired by the shadows and geometry of ancient temples —the marble imparts Marden’s elemental motifs and geometric shapes with a certain luminosity. To complement the marbles, Marden has selected a small group of ink drawings on paper. In Extended Eagles Mere Drawing (1990), a grid of black lines is interwoven with linear strands and patches of deep yellows, greens, and reds. In Untitled (1990), Marden looks to the traditional methods of Chinese calligraphy; working from top to bottom and right to left, he fills the paper with columns of glyphic marks that loosen the strictures of the grid with gestural freedom.
Also on view for the first time will be Free Painting 3 (2017), a six-panel painting. Marden builds up the surface of each monochromatic square panel with thinly applied layers of deep reds, blues, greens, and yellows. He allows the residue from each square to run downward, transforming the open space beneath into a sort of secular predella to reveal vital aspects of his painting process.
Gagosian presents an exhibition of paintings on marble and works on paper by Brice Marden to inaugurate the gallery’s new location in Athens. This will be Marden’s first solo exhibition in Greece in four decades.