The grandiose, wide-open wall spaces afforded the viewer at MMG on W 22 St are used to great advantage by Mr Marden, aka (affectionately known as) “the meathead” to Jeanne and me for his somewhat hilarious interview with Charlie Rose after his MOMA retrospective.
Despite his suspect public speaking abilities, his painterly instincts are seen here in full force. Much has been made concerning Marden’s worldwide travels prior to this exhibit; the artist describes the work as influenced by Chinese calligraphy he studied during those sojourns. The expansive scale of the 4 large pieces in the central room exude a quietly exuberant elegance, but seem less calligraphic than Western, evoking the metaphorical presence of an ancient Grecian portico reminiscent of the artist’s youthful aesthetic journeys’.
Marden could be considered a well-traveled painter, his work has spanned many stylistic incarnations, and to his credit he has always been willing to risk his market to explore the furthest reaches of his artistic interests. Even though these wanderings have not always been fruitful, the work in this show demonstrates Marden’s diligent mastery of the dichotomies between painting and drawing, contemplation and action, motif and improvisation.
At first glance, these highly engineered, yet unforced compositions may seem typical of his recent tangled webs of banded color that twist their way around the surface of his picture plane. But in a new “twist”, the artist has reinvented the monochromatic semeiotics from his early work. Vertical columns of muted color appear on the left and right sides of the canvas, bookending swirling ribbons of coursing pigment that might otherwise lose their way. These subtly modulated chromatic blocks oscillate, sometimes as pillars supporting the painter’s temple within, other times they recede, becoming the backdrop for a stage of abstract activity.
On a technical level Marden’s art really boils down to the question of whether a drawing can be painted, but his works on paper in this exhibit are less about the process of draftsmanship and modeling then as a meditation on the inner eye. Sub visual content of facial symmetries and synaptic patterns become inherently schematic, but pulse with the urgency of a Pollack. Though initially seen as flat, on closer scrutiny the succulent surfaces of his painted drawings offer lushly felt sensation. There is an illusionary depth in the paintings that gains credence as result of the works on paper; certainly one could not have been without the other.
Marden’s art would not be considered as an imitation of nature, there is a synthetic complexion intrinsic to the overall visual response. But the natural world resonates in Marden’s palette infusing the paintings with compelling artifice, (much the way silk and myrrh entice) while their visual eloquence speaks volumes about a painter who need say little.