In the paintings of the 1990s, the addition of bright colors in place of the more muted palette of the blue, gray, white and black Cold Mountain paintings enhances the elaborate relations between the more open, yet convoluted systems of linear entanglements of Marden’s work. Set against a grey ground, occasionally scraped and thinned by the artist, the looping colors of red, yellow, green and white weave inward and outward within the composition of The Attended and frame its exterior where line meets and follows edge. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Marden’s canvases and drawings probed the painterly potential of his break from the monolithic encaustic panels of his 1960s paintings, occasioned by his use of a brush mounted on a long-handled stick. From canvas to canvas, Marden indulged in the possibilities of linear abstraction, reveling in gestural compositions and forms that overlap in locked embrace. As he progressed through the decade of the 1990s, Marden’s color schemes varied from vivid and florid to soft and atmospheric, and his line flattened and broadened as it wended its way across his canvas surfaces. The dense, often spiked lines of the linear abstractions that immediately followed the Cold Mountain series give way to the undulant shapes and more languid flow of The Attended. As the rounded spaces within Marden’s web of interlocking lines enlarged, references to sculptural and volumetric characteristics can be discerned and curator Charles Wylie has noted a suggestion of the rounded proportions of the diminutive Venus of Willendorf, one of the oldest known carved representations of the human figure (Exh. Cat., Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, Brice Marden, Work of the 1990s: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints, 1999, p. 35) By the time of The Attendant series, Marden’s forms have a new measured pace and the circuitous linear networks abandon the braided and intertwined compositions of the early 1990s such as Uxmal (1991-93, Collection of The Saint Louis Art Museum) and Kalo Keri (1990, Kunstmuseum Winterthur). In The Attended, the composition retains Marden’s intersecting linear construct while the loops have a new discrete character, overlaying one another in an undeviated hierarchy of red over yellow over green over white.
An exquisite interplay of simplicity and complexity, clarity and mystery, The Attended embodies Marden’s deep affinity for drawing as the wellspring of creative endeavor. Jackson Pollock is often cited as an inspiration for Marden’s all-over compositions, both in his monochromatic panel paintings and in his linear abstractions, and Pollock’s famous melding of “drawing into painting” is clearly relevant to the paintings of the 1990s, as discussed by Lisa G. Corrin in the Serpentine Gallery catalogue: “Although drawing has been at the centre of Marden’s work throughout the 1990s, it is no longer a threshold through which he must pass to paint. It is painting.” (Exh. Cat., London Serpentine Gallery, Brice Marden, 2000, p. 6) Marden acknowledged as much when describing the liberation of technique he sought during the calligraphic paintings of the Cold Mountain series. “One of the things I wanted to do in the Cold Mountain paintings was to lose myself in the same way that I lose myself when I am drawing. …[When] I started the paintings, there were so many things that startled me. ..It was automatic; it was gestural and automatic.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Dia Center for the Arts, Brice Marden: Cold Mountain, 1991, p. 70) Once the calligraphic drawings and paintings afforded Marden a new field of inspiration and operation, the panoply of variations to follow in the 1990s engendered masterpieces of organic, rhythmic and atmospheric beauty.
Marden’s paintings of the 1990s, such as The Attended, possess a sense of time – of image and process unfolding in our presence – and in this sense, are as closely akin to Cy Twombly’s abstractions of mark making as to Jackson Pollock. With both artists’ work, there is a degree of candor and clarity about the constituent elements of line, color tone and gesture that is shared by both Marden and Twombly, and as our eye traverses their compositions, following each loop or changed trajectory of line, we experience the work in an almost narrative manner. The willingness of Marden, Twombly and Pollock to reveal the “bones” that constitute the structure and making of their paintings is a declaration of faith in the power of art. This thesis – this belief in painting’s ability to mutate and be reinvented for both artist and viewer - is in fact the common thread that unites Marden’s radical shifts from monochromatic encaustic paintings of the 1960s and 1970s to the gloriously complex paintings of the 1990s.
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