Temperamental Layering Process

Brice Marden Red Yellow Blue II 1974

“In each of the Red Yellow Blue paintings (1974), Marden painted slabs of dense yet nuanced color on three adjoined canvas panels, using oil paint mixed on the spot with melted beeswax and turpentine and applied with a knife and spatula. The dull sheen of the encaustic medium intensifies the bold, contrasting color blocks, built up through the temperamental layering process that yielded such intricately worked surfaces. The spirited variations within each “primary” trio (where red can range from cadmium to almost black, yellow from ochre to saffron, and blue from cobalt to sullen indigo) are rich with interpretative possibility—like musical chords improvised in major and minor keys.” [Brice Marden @ Gagosian Gallery]

“The first painting of Marden’s group is made up of three vertical panels of the three primaries: in the following three paintings of the same structural format he set out to “deviate from the standard” and overturn the established notion of these colors. Beyond the obvious resemblance to Kelly, the paintings seem even closer, in a less overt way, to Johns. Several paintings of the early 1960’s by Johns are made up of separate, but joined panels, on each of which is stenciled the name of a primary color. But the color used to paint the name of the color does not correspond to the color named. Like Johns, Marden “names” the colors by isolating them and then confounding his own naming process by creating a color which is not a pure version of the named color. For example, the yellow in the second painting is murkier than in the first, the blue deeper; the shifts are slight and subtle, but constitute nonetheless a violation of the primaries. Unlike his earlier groups of pictures, our response to these Red, Yellow, Blue paintings seems dependent upon seeing them as a series. Each three-panel painting in the whole series seems almost to be functioning like a single panel within one three-panel piece. Therefore, a single painting’s significance seemingly relies on its relation to another painting in the series. Apparently coming closer to a more accessible vision, he continues to make the experience of his work difficult— whether or not we know the paintings in the series context, we are forced to deal with our preconceived notion of red, yellow and blue, and to define his “deviation from the standard” in our own minds and according to our own sensibilities.” [Brice Marden @ Guggenheim]

Brice Marden Red Yellow Blue III 1974

“It seems there are so many things, references. I didn’t feel at all aligned with the Stella logic. I felt much more in tune with abstract expressionism—much, much more. The actual act of painting, the physicality of the thing, became the substance of abstract expressionism. Paint worked as an actual plastic element. And you know, the paint wasn’t meant as a reductive thing. I would think to myself that this could be a detail of a Pollock line, it was spatial. Like my real early stuff, the first color paintings really came out of trying to paint grids, but I couldn’t work out a grid. There’s so many references. There’s one painting that’s like two squares, called Pair. I was thinking of those two Rauschenherg paintings, Factum I and II, because they started out to be two separate paintings and then by the time I finished them they were one painting. I was also thinking of Giacometti portraits—spatial exactness within the frame. I had also done a painting that was two squares on a canvas and it was divided down the middle with charcoal lines—that was the edge. It wasn’t about something coming through. The line was where things met as opposed to how you talk about the Newman zip.” [Brice Marden in conversation with Saul Ostrow]

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