Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Brice Marden on Jackson Pollock Part 3.

Here's the last part of Brice Marden's writing on Jackson Pollock.


How you look at a painting physically is very important. A good way to approach a painting is to look at it from a distance roughly equivalent to its height, then double that distance, then go back and look at it in detail where you can begin to answer the questions you've posed at each of these various viewing distances. If you go through a museum and you look at a lot of paintings in that way, it's like a little dance; it's almost a ritual of involvement. If you look very carefully from each of these different distances, you create a space that derives from the painting itself as a physical object and a visual field. When you read the levels of white light, you start from the ground the canvas and then you read the blue, to the yellow, to the red, then the whites, then you see the blacks going through, then the blues, and suddenly, if you are responding, you enter a world that is really inexplicable. The paintings world is only explicable in the sense that it is what you're looking at. That actual experience is happening to you as you look at that painting. That's why painters make paintings: To have you be in that place.

When I talk about the grayish white that runs up through white light, I have to talk about what it is for me to be in that grayish white place. As I was coming uptown to the museum this afternoon, there was the most beautiful light. New York has a great silvery light and today the city was filled with that light. The air was cleansed and the atmosphere was brilliant. As I was standing on a corner thinking, well I'm going to talk about Jackson Pollock this afternoon, I looked up and saw one bank of clouds going one way and another bank of clouds slightly in front going in another direction. And I look at those clouds and I feel these two large movements with a real empathy. And that's just what happens in white light. Different movements work against each other and with each other, and this grayish-white starts moving through the painting one way, the yellows start moving through the painting another way...

There are, of course, differences in the way you relate to the very big paintings and the smaller paintings. I know that most interpretations suggest that you enter this space of the big paintings because they provide an environment that is human scale. But I see the smaller ones as really pulling you in. Maybe because of the size of the big paintings, there's a sort of removal. We don't know for certain that he painted on stretched canvas is, so we don't know if he started with a very specific rectangle that pre-existed. But in the smaller paintings, it seems as if he painted right up to the edge, producing a reverberation off that edge that doesn't happen in the big canvases that were spread on the floor and then got cropped. Some of the black paintings, Pollock gets these great configurations that go down the sides, these kind of round things, almost like spinal columns, incredibly inventive, so that you become acutely conscious of the age of the paintings. It's almost the difference between being told a story and being a character in a story. What happens in the little ones - and the fact is that even white light and scent, relatively small in relation to one, are not really small paintings - is you become a character in the story, and in the big ones you are a witness.

Pollock gave us incredibly powerful, very direct images. I haven't seen scent for many years, and what it is as a painting, to me, has come to the forefront of my thinking. I remember seeing it and having an experience that is very rare in front of paintings. It's as if that painting is burned in my mind. I remember images in that painting; I remember there were these birds, Strange Birds. And I love to look at the Mets head, number 7, 1952, as if it's not a head, and then it turns into a monster with strange nostrils. But then it has that beautiful yellow in it, as if something spilled on it, like a studio mistake. But it's there. It does something to the painting that's just unbelievable. And the black and white paintings - I see those as almost monster paintings, with images that are really scary. Those images are not stereotypical forms; they don't drive from jungian exercises. These are images that come right out of Jackson Pollock. These are very, very strong, bizarre paintings. They have weights in leanings in them that you just can't understand at all.

I go to the Met to see number 7 a lot and I always find something that's not quite right: Oh I say, it's too bottom - heavy for me, or it's something else that's all. But I went to see it last weekend and it just came to life. I looked at the blacks, I looked at the browns, and the painting started working for me. It was a very exciting moment. Not just one Jackson Pollock but a whole great aspect of New York open up to me again. One of my favorite comments is from Maynard Solomon, talking about Beethoven, when he says that "the one thing about a work of art is that it's a constantly renewable source of energy". Whoever looks at a Jackson Pollock can get the intense energy that is in the painting. That's one of the great things about art, you can always go back to it and get it. It's always alive. Well... It's not always alive. It isn't alive when no one is perceiving it, when no one is responding to it.

Fierce effort to eliminate imagery in paintings of this kind blue poles that gives such strength and potency to the use of paint and the general impact of the picture as painting... There is no sensation of... Suppression but instead an invocation of the natural forces moving behind life. Bryan Robertson

Pollock is a very real presence in Marden''s Cold Mountain work. Ever ready to "go to his sources", Marden keeps in close view on his drawing table 4 postcards of Pollock paintings, convergence, 1952, number 32, 1950, number 7, 1951, and number 23, 1948. Books on Pollock are at hand for quick reference to reproductions of paintings and drawings. Marden repeatedly visits the Pollock paintings in New York, where he probes and ponders the work for deeper understanding. It is significant that there are multiple postcards of Pollock works in the studio, just as there are multiple postcard images of paintings by Cezanne, including a bathers and two versions of mont Sainte Victoire, Marden does not keep the images at hand out of sentiment, nor are they there as static , if heroic, icons. While Marden may view any one of these paintings, taken in isolation, as dazzling in its achievement, it is not any one painting alone that compels Marden's attention and respect. What Marden admires above all in Pollock and Cezanne, is a body of work that tracks the process of making painting after painting, drawing after drawing, often on the same subject, addressing a single problem from multiple perspectives, living with the struggle. The whole thing about making a painting. Marden says, is that the next painting is supposed to be a better painting.

Marden's position is at once puritanical and existential. He is motivated by the quest for perfection even as he knows that each painting on which he exerts such an exhaustive effort will not - cannot, must not - be as good as his next painting. In the end, it's not only the resolution of each and every painting to which Marden aspires. I admire certain pictures by Pollock and Cezanne, he says, but it isn't just the pictures. I aspire to what their pictures reveal, a true relation between artists and the art they make.

Marden closed a statement he wrote for publication in 1991 with the phrase "Cezanne, my hero." The heroic painter, for Marden, is a convergence of who one is, what one makes, and who one wishes to become. Harrowing uncertainty must coexist with hubristic will. "I am the only painter alive", Cezanne is reported to have said to Joachim Gasquet, convincingly communicating awareness of his superiority. Marden laughs with delighted admiration and repeating this Cezanne quote to friends. Yet even in the face of such conviction, Cezanne acknowledged that he was still far removed from the goal that as an artist he dreamed of attaining. 'I have a lot of work to do', he wrote to Louis Aurenche. 'It is what happens to everyone who is someone'.


I hope you have enjoyed this text. I'm glad to be able to share it. The text comes from the book BRICE MARDEN - COLD MOUNTAIN. Published by Houston Fine Art Press.

Thanks. Jeffrey Collins

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Columbus, Ohio, United States