Thursday, January 16, 2014

Brice Marden: The Grid and the Sea

Brice Marden; printed by Kathan Brown. Marden, American, born 1938. Untitled from the Adriatics portfolio, 1973. Etching printed in black on Rives BFK paper. Gift of Angela Westwater, class of 1964. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:10-2.

Brice Marden; printed by Kathan Brown. Marden, American, born 1938. Untitled from the Adriatics portfolio, 1973. Etching printed in black on Rives BFK paper. Gift of Angela Westwater, class of 1964. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1978:10-3.

Among my favorite works in the SCMA collection are these two prints by Brice Marden which merge chance expression with methodical control. Known as a “Romantic Minimalist,” his extremely reductive visual language of monochromes, lines, and grids may at first appear similar to that of his Minimalist contemporaries of the 1960s and ‘70s, but Marden never completely abandoned the accidental or idiosyncratic gesture characteristic of Abstract Expressionists.

In the 1970s, Marden discovered his affinity for the etching process through several brilliant collaborations with the master printer Kathan Brown at Crown Point Press in Oakland, CA. Marden found that etching allowed him to make intricate, serial investigations of linear and expressive mark-making, often through the manipulation of a grid composition.

In his second collaboration with Brown in 1973, Marden made the two Untitled prints from the Adriatics series pictured above, named after the Adriatic Sea between Italy and Greece. Divided laterally into two different grids which are reminiscent of nautical charts, these prints are intended to evoke the variation of weight and density of the sky and sea. They display Marden’s characteristic anxious lines, which are especially tense where his etching needle slipped or his sweater was imprinted on the plate (see details below). I have found that my eye is drawn into these works by these miniscule imperfections, wandering aimlessly around and around the image, finding new details with each viewing. Marden skillfully balances these subtle instances of chance expression with the grid’s semblance of perfection. The result is an overall quietude which invites patient viewers into a hypnotic, meditative state similar to that induced by gazing out into the vastness of the sea.

Details of Marden’s two Untitled prints from the Adriatics portfolio, SC 1978:10-2 (left) and SC 1978: 10-3 (right). Details show marks made by a slipped etching needle (left) and an imprint of Marden’s sweater on the etching place (right).

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