The Lyrical Brice Marden

Brice Marden was a grand name in the corridors of the art world. He was an integral swath of fabric connecting the late 20th to early 21st century art world.

He was the in-betweener.

All of the giants before him: Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Cy Twombly, Josef Albers were diamond studded facets that became an amalgamated Brice.

He was like the weight of the anchor for a giant tanker! He challenged the burden: He was the link to generations of giants. He was a force of nature and one of the many to bring forth the past. He was one of the few to forge into the future. These are my eyes talking.

After photographing hundreds of artists’ portraits in their studios you begin to witness the DNA tethered between generations. It is not an exact science, but certainly the heart gets an opinion. In a way it may be the grandest compliment that can be made: Brice Marden was the embodiment of the painters’ gesture. He was the “aha” moment. His work also suggested, “forward we march”.

Art isn’t taught it is learned. I was told that by the artist Robert Motherwell. When he was tasked daily with imitating a particular Cézanne he knew he needed a new way of thinking. He took all of the strategies of a long gone genius and launched himself into his new direction. That is how I think of Brice Marden. I always store these important emotions in my temporal lobe.

I remember walking into what was both a capacious and intimate studio. Brice shook my hands. I could feel the ice in his veins. Not that he was an old cold dude, on the contrary, he pulsed, and lava flowed through his eyes. He was fearless. The camera saw even more.

I don’t believe there is a person, biographer, lover, nor a soul who can fully describe what the artist is/was thinking as he/she stands soulfully in front of the blank canvas. I remember asking deKooning, Jasper, Rauschenberg, Haring and Basquiat what they thought standing naked in front of a naked canvas. To a person I feel they giggled addressing my naïveté. But not Marden. It was almost as if he wanted me to follow him through his past: through his wars. We walked the spacious studio. He asked me a ton of questions about the aforementioned artists. Everyone I photographed also wanted to know about the artists descending in the past and those scaling towards a future. I really think Brice tried to answer the blank canvas question without feeling he had his intellectual privacy invaded. Maybe showing his work was really his answer.

When he invited me to visit him on the Greek island of Hydra, I thought  may be he was offering me a window to my blank canvas queries. Though when he described the life on the island, (also second homes to Leonard Cohen and David Gilmour) maybe there was a bit of joshing. I immediately felt there might be a huge task ahead. I thought my name might need (If I was to meet the offer/challenge) to end with a big “S” like Hercules or Aeschylus. I wasn’t sure if the invite was serious or was it something I could muster. I mean, “really” an invite from the knight of a generation?

My portrait archives are a window into my past certainly. But they also inform me of past cultural generations. The archives represent thousands of people who shared something from themselves to me.

In most cases after I completed my session I never saw the subject nor their ghost again. But I do feel the pang of loss. Part of the fabric of my life vanishes and I am left in the light of darkness. Reverie is quite a compelling place to consider another’s life.

Richard Schulman is a photographer and writer. His books include Portraits of the New Architecture and Oxymoron & Pleonasmus. He lives in New York City.