Monday, April 15, 2019

Brice Marden, Morocco @ Gagosian

Brice Marden, Marrakech Drawing, 2017
I was happy to return to my Friday art excursions with BrIce Marden’s Morocco exhibition at Gagosian’s rue Ponthieu gallery. The small exhibition of ink drawings and a single oil and wax on canvas painting is surprisingly intimate. The exhibition has been shipped from the Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakesh, Morocco, where Marden and his wife have spent time over the past forty years. While the colours and landscape of Morocco have clearly influenced the works, it’s the internal landscape that is most striking in these delicate ink drawings. The majority of works exhibited are small, ink on paper drawings filled with Marden’s familiar calligraphic gestural lines. In them the fluid webs of coloured lines of entangled, interconnected paths trace the movement of the artist’s hand inside a precisely determined square or rectangular field. Each drawing covers a different dimension, and often a differently shaped space. Each is made of different colours, different intensities and consistencies, as well as types of ink. Thus, even though the compositions are familiar, they are also unpredictable and filled with the seeming chance interactions of ink and paper.
Brice Marden, Helen's Moroccan Painting, 1980

Brice Marden, Summer Drawing, 2016

The drawings are executed in Marden’s familiar palette made up of colours of the natural environment. With browns and blacks, earth colours and greens of course, dominating many of the pages. Then suddenly, pink emerges, making the drawing soft and creating a whole new light and luminosity on a single sheet of paper. The colour is as surprising as the lines it traces, the unpredictable movements it follows.

Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakesh, Morocco
The movement of the cursive lines that might be waving in the wind, or winding across unchartered territory, or simply tracing the artist’s thought patterns, are intimate for a number of reasons. To be sure, the fact that the drawings are taken from a workbook, Marden’s intuitive ideas that he is known to put on paper prior to putting paint on canvas, takes us inside his working process. Thus, they suggest an internal state, something that does not belong in the objective world, reflecting movements and internal journeys of the intellect and the emotions that would not otherwise find expression. The works are also intimate because they draw us close: as we study the bleed of the ink from a blot on the page, or the path of a winding line, the shift in colours and the lyricism of the line, we are drawn ever closer to the paper.
Brice Marden, Untitled, "35", from 2008-2018
Brice Marden, Untitled,  "10" from 2008-2018

They are also intimate because they ask us to look inside ourselves, to find some kind of intensity that we might not have otherwise noticed. Similarly, we become focused on the materials of execution: the differences in ink, its interaction with the very textured paper within the playing field of the square or rectangle. I for one was left wondering. What tools did Marden use to apply the ink, assuming it wasn’t a brush or a nib given the flatness of the coloured lines? Did he use his habitual sticks and spatula? And how did he decide the size and dimensions of each drawing in his workbook? What types of ink are used? How does he determine when the shift in intensity of a line will take place?

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