Monday, August 26, 2013

Brice Marden: cold wax medium and calligraphy

Brice Marden Second Letter (Zen Spring)  Oil on linen   96 x 144 "

After teaching my workshop at MISSA on Vancouver Island in July, I visited my artist friend, Barbra Edwards on Pender Island.  She was reading a book about the American abstract artist, Brice Marden, written by Eileen Costello.  I picked up a copy of the book when I came home.

I love connections and interconnections between people and ideas and events. In my last post (click here),  I wrote about my brush explorations workshop, where I painted with red cedar brushes and ink, creating calligraphic forms.  In reading Eileen Costello's book on Brice Marden, I was excited to learn how Chinese calligraphy had such an enormous influence on his work.

Another connection I had to Marden's work was that he was a pioneer in the use of cold wax medium and oil paint.  He was working with it for years before Gamblin started manufacturing it.  From 1965-1981 he used cold wax medium in his minimalist paintings to give an impasto quality to the paint and to make a more matte surface.

 I did not know about the Asian influence on Marden's work.  An exhibition of Japanese Calligraphy at the Japan House Gallery in New York in 1984 marked a major turning point in his work.  He began then, to study Asian culture and calligraphic forms began to enter his work.  He admired Chinese poetry and was inspired to learn that their glyphs were ideograms-symbols that represented an idea or concept.  Marden's work moved into new territory then as he improvised on the concept of ideograms and began drawing his own glyphs that became enormous interconnected lines that seem to move and turn in space.

What interests me most about Brice Marden is his creativity and his wide-ranging interests: Greek friezes, Chinese hand scrolls, scholar's rocks, ancient gardens, the use of twigs and sticks to draw with, and his interest in numerology, all of these entwined within an art historical context.

Marden says about his art, that "It's something very deep and felt...It's all about questions that there are no answers for, it's that whole thing about mystery."  He sounds rather like the painter-priests of Zen Buddhist lineage I'd say.

There is a quote by Ezra Pound in the book: "The artist is always beginning. Any work of art which is not a beginning, an invention, a discovery, is of little worth."  Marden has always followed this path while staying within the tradition of abstraction.

I am delighted to read of Ezra Pound's advice because invention and discovery have always played a crucial role in my painting.

I'm deeply focused right now on the work for my show at the Burlington Art Centre in Burlington, Ontario which opens November 23, 2013.  My new body of work is in progress and I have not yet photographed it.  I'm at the stage where I can't let anyone see it right now.  On the heels of my series of life-affirming paintings influenced by the illness of a good friend, comes a new series that I can't quite find words for just yet.  It seems to be related to light and the fragility of life. ............ More to come.


  1. Painter-priests, poet priests, priest musicians etc.-- it's so elegant when art infuses spirituality and vice-versa...Best of luck with the upcoming show.

    1. Thanks Jean! Yes, I love that concept of painter-priests and poet-priests. I wonder what sort of training that would require????