Over the last 40 years, the painter Brice Marden has been photographed wearing funny hats, wielding stick-like paintbrushes in his studios, sitting on Cezanne’s tomb, or occupying some breathtaking piece of real estate that he owns. Whether meant ironically or romantically, these photos have helped people think of Marden as some rock star shaman-Zen master-saint of paint. Unlike most self-conscious image manipulation, however, these photos haven’t obscured Marden’s amazing achievement or diminished his enormous influence.
This is because, since around 1986, Marden has methodically and compulsively, sometimes annoyingly, but nevertheless magnificently, made a seemingly endless, slowly evolving series of exotically colored paintings with Hellenistically shallow space and artery- and spaghetti-like looping lines and squiggles that move within these canvases like snakes in a box. These paintings resemble abstract illuminated manuscripts, subway maps from Shangri-la, insect architecture, organic labyrinths, woozy doodles, and pretzels. Depending on your point of view, Marden is either a keeper of the faith of painting or caught in a formulaic feedback loop.
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