Brice Marden



Watercolour on paper
Support: 470 x 1005 mm
frame: 619 x 1152 x 39 mm
Purchased 1987

Catalogue entry

T04938 I 1986

Painting ink and pencil on paper 470 × 1005 (18 1/2 × 39 1/2)
Inscribed ‘B. Marden 1986 I’ b.r.
Purchased from Anthony d'Offay Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Exh: Works on Paper, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, May 1987 (32); Original Eyes: Progressive Vision in British Watercolour 1750–1850, Tate Gallery Liverpool, May–Aug. 1991 (no number)
Lit: Tate Gallery Report 1986–88, 1988, p.89 repr. (col.); David Blayney Brown, Original Eyes: Progressive Vision in British Watercolour 1750–1850, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Liverpool 1991, p.32, repr. p.35

The image consists of a vertically-orientated, green rectangle placed centrally within a wide sheet of paper. The top edge of the rectangle elides with the top edge of the paper but there is a small margin between the bottom edge of the rectangle and the lower edge of the paper. The rectangle is subdivided into four further rectangles, three of a vertical format and one horizontal. The subdivisions are made apparent both by pencil lines and variations in the green ink wash which has been applied to the image. The variations in the wash, achieved by wiping the paper after the ink has been applied, suggest the form of a T. The T shape itself is lighter in tone than the two other rectangles which flank the vertical element of the T. The vertical lines defining the outer edges of the overall image continue below the lowest horizontal line to the bottom edge of the paper. The colour also overlaps the pencil outlines of the rectangle in places. The margins on either side of the image are divided in two by a vertical line the full height of the paper. The vertical edges of the paper are also defined by pencil lines which are interrupted by the raggedness of the edges.

This work on paper is one of a series Marden executed in 1986 and was exhibited at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery alongside one other, titled ‘II’. This second work was in a similar style and represented the negative of T04938, that is, the central T was darker than the other two rectangles. In conversation with the cataloguer on 1 November 1988 Marden recalled that these two works were part of a group of about five green works in a larger series (the artist cannot recall how many there were in all in the series). In some of the drawings within the group of green works the configuration appears twice. Other drawings in the series depict three T shapes, centrally located, side by side in either red, yellow and blue with green on top or red, yellow and green with blue on top. Marden stated in conversation with the cataloguer on 25 February 1992 that these were studies for the central window of the cathedral in Basle, a project on which he had been working since 1977 but which was never completed. His choice of colours was informed by his interest in alchemy (see Jeremy Lewison, Brice Marden: Prints 1961–1991, exh. cat., Tate Gallery 1992, pp.43–4, and pages from Marden's notebooks repr. in Brice Marden: Recent Work, exh. cat., Pace Gallery, New York 1984, [pp.1–16]).

The configuration in T04938 is similar to the one Marden had been using in paintings of the late 1970s and early 1980s, for example, ‘Thira’, 1979–80 (Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, repr. Klaus Kertess, Brice Marden: Paintings and Drawings, New York 1992, p.105 in col.) and ‘Green (Earth)’, 1983–4 (Pace Gallery, New York, repr. ibid., p.114 in col.). In 1986, however, Marden's approach to painting was undergoing a change, becoming linear rather than planar. T04938, therefore, looked back to an earlier style of painting.

The T shape refers metaphorically to classical architecture of ancient times, particularly the post and lintel motif of Greek architecture. The previously mentioned title ‘Thira’, for example, is the Greek word for door. Marden has been a regular visitor to Greece since 1971 and the relationship of the T shape and related motifs in Marden's work to the post and lintel of classical Greek architecture and landscape has been remarked upon by many writers (see, for example, Roberta Smith, ‘Brice Marden’ in Brice Marden: Paintings Drawings and Prints 1975–80, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery 1981, pp.51–2 and Lewison 1992, pp.40–4). The organisation of his paintings into clearly defined panels of colour in the late 1970s and early 1980s also arose out of Marden's interest in Roman painting, which he saw in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and on trips to Italy (ibid., pp.38–40). The T shape has also been considered a reference to the three-armed cross of the Old Testament (see Smith 1981, p.52).

The pencil outlines were drawn in first. The painting ink Marden employed is terre verte and was used unmixed. It was applied thinly on all the works in this series and, in this respect, the series is uncharacteristic of Marden's works, whether on canvas or paper. His usual practice is to build up layers of paint or graphite to obtain a dense, opaque surface. Marden recalled in conversation with the cataloguer that these works were ‘pretty direct’. He related terre verte to the landscape in terms of both colour and its origins as a pigment derived from the earth.

Towards the top right of the paper there are some blood stains. The blood was not deliberately applied. Indeed, the artist had not noticed it until the cataloguer drew it to his attention. Marden thought that he probably inadvertently cut himself. He does not consider the blood to be a part of the work.

Marden recalled that the paper is Japanese and incorporates ground pumice. It was given to him by the printer Hiroshe Kawanishe, of Simca Artist Prints, with whom he made screenprints in 1983 (Lewison 1992, nos.36–8, repr.). Although the paper was not the same as was used for the prints, Kawanishi had given it to Marden to make drawings in Hydra, Greece, during the summer of 1982 prior to embarking on the screenprints in May 1983. Marden did not use it all in 1982 and employed it again in 1986. The paper is marked by storage creases.

The title and date in the inscription as recorded in the Tate Gallery Report 1986–88 were transposed. The inscription as recorded above is correct.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996