Swirl, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 10 5/8 x 9 3/4 in.
Thinking about this beautiful show of Brice Marden's new paintings on marble at Matthew Marks Gallery, I went searching for a Michelangelo quote about finding a figure in a marble block, and I found two:
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.
In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.In a similar way, Marden uses the shapes and natural color and patterning in pieces of marble to find his paintings. His interventions are modest, sensitive, and respectful of the material. He uses simple geometric form to converse with its black swirls and variegated surface.
At times the paint is so subtle, as in the white rectangle on this painting's left, as to make me wonder if it is indeed paint.
#3, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 19 3/4 x 8 in.
So minimal, so perfectly balanced. Writing this, I wondered if Marden chose where to cut the marble, in control of the shapes and edges, or did he simply choose from the pieces on offer, where he painted them on the Greek Island of Hydra.
In #3, the line of paint, which has been allowed to drip at its lower edge, introduces a straight horizon to the dark, irregular curve of the marble's black vein.
Joined, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 26 3/4 x 6 5/8 in.
The soft green and pink of Joined create a feeling of two parts put together. The tall, narrow format is held together by the wandering blacks of veining. We might be reminded of a Chinese landscape painting scroll....
Chinese Landscape, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 41 1/2 x 7 7/8 in.
and in this work Marden makes the reference explicit, as we imagine row upon row of receding mountains, disappearing in mist.
For Blinky, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 29 3/4 x 11 5/8 in.
This must be for Blinky Palermo (there's a slide show at the link), and since I too am a fan I included this piece. The bands of yellow and the black square are likely a reference to Palermo's large multipart work To the People of the City of New York.
First Square, 2011; oil and graphite on marble, 15 3/4 x 9 7/8 in.
First Square, detail.
The square in First Square is bounded by the upper edge of the yellow triangle. The geometry of triangle and rectangles is softened by the flowing black, and by the jutting edge of the marble at the top, whose angle is opposite to that of the triangle below, and which seems like the prow of a moving ship. This small painting, like the others in the show, is very satisfying to contemplate as a reserved and quiet search for beauty.