Born in New York in 1938, Brice Marden is a painter whose work is generally recognized as Minimalist or Abstract Expressionist. His large paintings are built up of many layers of oil paint mixed with wax, and he often joins canvases together to create diptychs or triptychs. Critic Peter Schjeldahl described Marden in The New Yorker in 2006 as “the most profound abstract painter of the past four decades.”
Brice Marden’s interest in art began at an early age; in his youth, he would occasionally cut class so he could hitchhike to Manhattan to visit art museums. In 1960, he married Pauline Baez, sister of the singer Joan Baez, and they had one son; they separated four years later. Marden earned his BFA from Boston University and his MFA from Yale University, where he was classmates with Robert Mangold, Chuck Close, and Richard Serra. After graduating from Yale in 1963, Marden worked part-time as a guard at the Jewish Museum in New York. It was there that he saw Jasper John’s 1964 exhibition, which inspired him to add more depth into his paintings by blending turpentine, oil paint, and beeswax. His other early influences included Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning. In 1966, Marden was hired as Robert Rauschenberg’s assistant at the recommendation of the artist Dorothea Rockburne, who was working as Rauschenberg’s secretary at the time. That year Marden had his first solo show at the Bykert Gallery in New York. A reviewer of his show wrote “These paintings are very unaggressive and slow but they have distinct, sensuous appeal.”
Marden’s paintings examine themes of nature, poetry, myth and human form, including abstract representations of friends or family. In one of his best known “portraits” Star (for Patti Smith), the height and width of the color panels correspond to Smith’s height and to the width of her shoulders. Marden had previously used this system of measurement in his 1967 portrait of his second wife, Helen Marden née Harrington. In the ‘70s, Marden began to experiment with different ways of mark-making. For instance, he would gather twigs from outside his New York apartment to use as tools for drawing; he would also attach a brush to a long stick for a wider range of movement.
Marden’s development as an artist is greatly influenced by his travels, especially to Hydra, Greece. Marden and his wife Helen bought their first house on the Greek island and have spent every summer there since the early 1970s. Marden created a series of paintings and works on paper inspired by the light and landscape of Mediterranean cities, including the Hydra paintings (1972) and Thira (1979–80), a painting composed of eighteen interconnected panels. During the 1970s and ‘80s, Marden traveled to Italy, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India. He became fascinated
by Asian poetry and calligraphy, subsequently incorporating gestural brushwork resembling Chinese characters into his second major body of work. He explained to the Financial Times, “What I liked about the calligraphy is I didn’t understand it. You couldn’t read it, so it was abstract. It’s another way towards a freer expression.”
In 1975, the Guggenheim Museum in New York held a retrospective of Marden’s work created from 1964- 74. The demand for his work increased in the late ‘80s when he was picked up by gallerist Mary Boone with a $1 million advance against future sales of paintings. In 1988, Marden was named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2000, Brown University awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts. A comprehensive retrospective of his work was held at The Museum of Modern Art in 2006. His paintings, as of 2016, realized of between $9 million and $11 million at auction. His works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Tate Gallery in London; and the Kunstmuseum Basel, among others. Marden was represented by Matthew Marks for more than two decades before signing with Gagosian Gallery in 2017. In addition to his work as an artist, he also manages hotels with his wife and their two daughters. They run a hotel on Nevis in the Caribbean, and a country inn called Hotel Tivoli in the Hudson River Valley of New York. Brice Marden primarily lives and works in New York City.