At the end of the fifties, with the waning dominance of North American Abstract Expressionism, numerous artists start to find in Asian art a new medium with which to revive abstract art. The exhibition of Brice Marden (Bronxville, New York, 1938) typifies this new road to abstraction whilst also showing how the works exhibited here represent a radical turnaround in the artists output. Marden undertakes the project Cold Mountain (1988-1991) at a time of personal crisis and artistic maturity, he is drawn towards calligraphy and Chinese poetry and is influenced by Abstract Expressionist approaches and the work of Jackson Pollock.
The core of the exhibition is made up of six monumental black oil on canvas paintings, unusually large in Marden's oeuvre, that form part of the Cold Mountain project, and is concluded with the first drawings realised under the calligraphic sign: St. Barts Drawings, the Cold Mountain Drawings sketches, the series of drawings entitled Group of Five and Cold Mountain, the drawings collected under the title Cold Mountain Sketchbook and finally the series of Cold Mountain. Zen Studies 1-6 etchings. The starting point of this work is the identification between calligraphy and drawing, encompassing the oriental principle that painting is a form of writing.
Marden is influenced by the poems Han-Shan wrote in the eighteenth century on his voluntary exile to the sacred mountain T´ien-T´ai (Heavenly Terrace); his interest is not so much in the content of the Chinese characters, but more in the aesthetic conception of the poetic compositions, the visual presence of the sign over the calligraphy. Akin to the majority of Western painters interested in Asian artistic expression, in the art critic Isabel Cervera's words, Marden was drawn to the: “Asian artists' great capacity for abstraction, their consideration of the void, of spontaneity, their ability to represent an idea and their escape from imitation painting.” Hence Marden's sole use of black paint on white canvas to: “Delineate some of the spontaneity and fluidity of his drawings of black ink on white paper, and by working from top to bottom, left to right (as in a Chinese text) he draws his unusual calligraphy in black,” as the writer and independent curator, Brendan Richardson point out. The outcome is not smooth calligraphy as his technique involves non-stop painting and correction, in some cases erasing certain traces of the recognition of a figure. This large-scale project brings together Asian spontaneity and the desire to explore the limits of Pollock's pictorial language.
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