- Brice Marden
- Hydra Diptych
- signed and dated 91; signed, titled and dated 1991 on the reverse
- ink, ink wash and gouache on two pieces of Arches Satine paper joined with Japanese paper
- 14 x 16 3/4 inches
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1991
In the present work, Japanese paper unites two rectangular pieces of Arches Satine paper, which, due to its makeup of cotton fibers, provides a richly textured surface for watercolor and ink. A rich wash of deep mossy green ink saturates the Arches satine paper, creating a vivid ground of varied tonality and hue, evocative of a dense forest or a wide sea. Serpentine black strokes twist, undulate and intersect across the composition, creating a compact network of lines that, although initially bursting with a dynamic energy, softens and relaxes upon longer visual engagement. A seemingly spontaneous and intermittent application of thin white gouache creates a harmony of light and color, ultimately revealing a studied and thoughtful mind at work. The white traces of ink course across the composition with apparent abandon, yet coalesce to create a profound sense of architecture. Of equal import to Marden is a deep affinity for language, both in poetry as well as the literal visual beauty of the characters that make up poetry, particularly Chinese calligraphy, a fascination evident in the present work. It should be noted, however, that Marden specifically never learned Chinese or Japanese, as he did not want to lose the ability to freely appreciate their abstract formal qualities. The choice of black and white ink, as well as Marden’s gestural-mark making, creates a script that whisks across the page in a visual vocabulary entirely unique to the artist and divorced completely from semiotics. Hints of blue gouache shadow the white in a sprightly dance of light and color.
Marden graduated from Boston University in 1961, after which he pursued a degree in art and architecture from Yale University. Upon completing his postgraduate studies, Marden traveled to Paris in 1964, where he began to experiment with charcoal on Arches paper, much like the chosen medium of the present work. Marden’s early drawings are the result of a keen interest in the materials with which he was working; scraping away paper, adding beeswax, repetitiously rubbing charcoal over paper, sanding, trimming, pressing, Marden relentlessly explored the ways various materials and processes collaborated to distinguish the picture plane, an investigation into the medium similarly pursued by the artist’s contemporaries such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Marden would continue to work on heavily textured papers, but would turn to his now iconic ‘stick drawings’ in the early 1970s. Of this pivotal artistic decision, Marden said, “I was living on Bond Street in Manhattan. There were a lot of these trees in the backyard and they would just drop branches with all these little leaves that come off. And I always thought they’d make a really great drawing instrument because it’s a very beautiful long stick.” (Brice Marden quoted in Janice C. Lee, “Interview with Brice Marden: May 21, 1988, Exh. Cat., New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Brice Marden Drawings, 1998, p. 17) Marden’s facility with the stick as brush is on resplendent display in the present work: the black lines and white and blue dashes are as deftly executed as if the artist had carefully used a paintbrush. That he could manipulate a longer branch from farther away and maintain control over the composition is truly a remarkable achievement, analogous to the mode of painting that Henri Matisse employed in his later years. Over the course of his time on the island of Hydra, Marden executed a number of drawings in this series, a similar example of which today resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Marden’s signature style, which beautifully unites a formal order with an emotive gesture, is crystallized in Hydra Diptych, an iconic representation of the artist’s oeuvre.