Brice Marden: `I Love Drawing' and It Defines the Soul of Work by This Artist

Article excerpt

YOU NEVER know what is going to happen when you make arrangements for artists to talk about their work. Sometimes they have very little to say because, legitimately, they feel that they have said what they want to say in their paintings or sculptures.

Others, whose minds and vocabularies have been tainted by the convoluted language of the writers of the school for the deliberately obscure, should let the work speak for itself.

But many artists use language creatively and offer listeners genuine pleasure by introducing them to ideas and to worlds of creativity and imagination. Brice Marden did that recently when he gave a talk at the St. Louis Art Museum.A

Marden is not a great orator, although - with his deep-set eyes and dramatic fashion sense (basic black with Mont Blanc pinpoint of white) - he does makes an impression.

Speaking simply and intelligently, he took his audience around a gallery where his work is hanging, going from picture to picture,d talking about the ideas and impulses that informed the pictures and, in general, about how he makes art.

The drawings, prints and the painting he discussed make up a miniature retrospective of his work that will be at the museum through Feb. 20.

Marden was born in 1938 and was reared in Westchester County, New York. After undergraduate work at Florida Southern College, he studied at Boston University and at Yale; the latter was, in the 1960s, as important as any art school in the world. After school, he moved to New York City, which in the 1960s was as exciting as any place could possibly be for artists and those interested in art.

Abstract expressionism, which focused the attention of the art world on New York after the war, was still a force, and some of its legendary masters were still around in New York in the '60s. But a new generation was coming in, and the various ways in which its members would go - Pop, Op, minimalism, conceptualism, happeningsism - were making themselves known, often noisily, always urgently.

This was the New York that Brice Marden landed in in 1963. Soon thereafter, Marden produced the earliest of the prints in the museum's show.

When you hear Marden talk about his work you realize that in spite of all the influences that have imposed themselves on him - a melange that includes Botticelli and Max Beckmann and Oscar Kokoscha, Josef Albers, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns, kgJJ his contemporaries, Japanese calligraphy - what appears by Brice Marden on paper or on canvas is singular.

The influences are evident as bitters are in gin or as saffron is in the soup. They color, flavor, enhance. They are not, however, the essence.

Drawing is the essence of Marden. "I love drawing," he says, and he says it not in the off-handed, diluted, bumperstickery way we proclaim that we love everything from chihuahua dogs to our fellow human beings, but more as a credo, as a fundamental fact of his life and his profession.

The love is luminous. Sometimes you need to stretch the definition of drawing beyond the conventional act of addressing a plane with an instrument loaded with lead or ink or paint. Sometimes drawing means rubbing or, as Marden says, removing line and leaving a ghost, rather than actually marking. …

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