“It’s memento mori—you build up these veils of feelings. It seems as though, because the early paintings were just one color, one could say one color, no feelings—but instead of no feelings they were all this feeling. Each layer was a color, was a feeling, a feeling that related to the feeling, the color, the layer beneath it.”
E xuberant and vital yet deeply meditative, Brice Marden's Klein from 1970 is the apotheosis of his early and career-defining monochromes. Utterly resistant to categorization, Marden's painting of the late 1960s and early 1970s variously relate to Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism but stand on their own in their adherence to philosophy, emotion and engagement with the world. While many of the works from this formative period in Marden's career are painted in a spectrum of subdued grey-tones, the present work stands out for its vibrant teal hue, presaging the later Grove Group works which are held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Testifying to the artist's dominion over color as an expressive tool and proxy for emotion, Klein's minute variations in texture and hue evoke the fleeting quality of memory and experience.
Klein is poetic in its quiet expansiveness, with a seemingly matte and uniform surface, belying a highly conceptual painterly process. To execute the present work, Marden formulated his own encaustic and applied the mixture to the support using a palette knife, and the traces of his paint application are visible in subtle ridges, especially at the peripheries. While the artist has stated, "I begin work with some vague color idea; a memory of a space, a color presence, a color I think I have seen," Klein extends beyond that simple conceit, recalling the electrifying azure of Yves Klein's International Klein Blue filtered through atmospheric layers of memory and emotion (the artist in Carl Andre, "New York in New York," Arts Magazine, May 1967, p. 50). While the present work is non-objective and pictorially flat in the vein of minimalism, its reference to other artwork and emotional resonances are unique qualities within Marden's oeuvre.
"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."
More than a reflection of past experiences, Klein is a generative font of emotional resonances. An object of great aesthetic beauty for its mesmeric, seafoam surface, the present work also acts as a record of Marden's labor. A narrow, horizontal strip is visible along the lower edge where the support and various drips and smears are visible, evincing a process of successive rounds of painting and recalling notions of control and release. The present work endures as a record of Marden outpouring himself into his canvas, forging an intimate dialogue with not only the past but any viewer who encounters the work.