a certain point where it’s out of your control
interview by GLENN O’BRIEN
portrait by ALEXIS DAHAN
When it comes to art, I like painting. When it comes to artists, I like painters. Especially the ones who believe in what they’re doing and who have the colossal nerve to try to make something beautiful and eternal rather than clever and timely. Painting can live outside the rat race and give us a window on something extraordinary.
I first encountered Brice Marden decades ago in the back room of Max’s Kansas City. All of the girls were in love with Brice. Well, all of the smart girls. (One of the smartest, a waitress named Helen, married him.) Some years later I happened to notice that he was a really good painter, and over the years my admiration for him as an artist and a person has grown enormously.
Some people don’t get Brice because he’s successful. Some people don’t get him because he doesn’t go into a big song and dance about his work. Some people don’t get him because they think he’s being arty and mystical. Some people don’t get him because he is still doing what he does, independently and seemingly unconcerned with the scene. But people who can actually see the work invariably get him. It’s all there on canvas and paper.
I admit I love the work on paper even more — even though that goes against everything the art world says about value. I love his drawings, done with no-two-alike sticks. He’s my 12-year-old son’s favorite artist. Oscar gets it without needing critical intervention.
I visited Brice at his Greenwich Village studio overlooking the Hudson River. While we talked, the U.S. Navy sailed into the harbor. The Blue Angels flew overhead, and tall ships sailed past the navy toward the sea. Occasionally we stopped the interview just to look out of the window. We started by talking about a painting he was working on in the studio, although the first words on my recording were: “I’m no good at this shit.” You be the judge.
BRICE MARDEN — I’m calling this painting “The Moss Sutra.” I have this piece of calligraphy that just fell out of a book, and I showed it to some Chinese expert and said, “What is this?” He said, “It’s a sutra.” They make these things to give out at weddings and occasions like that, with gold calligraphy on indigo paper. It’s got torn edges. So I just copied that form for this big center panel, and then I started working. Basically, it’s about moss in different seasons. These are spring, summer … I can’t set it up in my studio.
GLENN O’BRIEN — It’s too big for the studio?
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah. I’ve got these barns upstate and I’ve got one big barn that I might be able to sort of jerry-rig so I can put the painting in to look at it. Basically, I’m doing this cyclical thing. So the first color down on this ground of spring is the color from winter, which is the preceding panel, and then the first color on the summer is the color of the spring. So I’ve got it up to this point, and basically I had to figure out where do I take it from here. I mean, I want this to look like moss. But I’m not trying to paint a picture of moss. It all started with characters and … Oh, I don’t know. [laughs]
GLENN O’BRIEN — Are you a moss aficionado?
BRICE MARDEN — We do have a lot of moss in Pennsylvania.
GLENN O’BRIEN — We’ve got a lot of moss in Connecticut. We’ve been cultivating it.
BRICE MARDEN — Oh, really?
GLENN O’BRIEN — Yeah. I put on my Woolrich red jacket a few weeks ago, the one I wear so I don’t get shot in the woods, and I said, “What the hell is this in my pockets?” My wife Gina was wearing my jacket and had picked up all this moss and filled the pockets with it and then forgot it. Funny, though, it survived. I transplanted it. Gina is starting moss all around our property. She puts it in the blender with buttermilk or beer. We got into it after seeing these moss corridors Russel Wright cultivated in the woods at his house, Manitoga.
BRICE MARDEN — I’m trying to record the moss paintings as they’re going along. This is a study.
GLENN O’BRIEN — A study for this one we’re looking at in New York?
BRICE MARDEN — Yes. This one. So I have these longer panels upstate, and I don’t know how they’re going to fit in with the center panel. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to line them up.
GLENN O’BRIEN — When you’re making a panel like this, do you do one study for it or more than one?
BRICE MARDEN — There’s no set way. But it usually works out of the smaller drawings, and then I’m working on the big drawing, say, four pieces of paper. Each one is from a big drawing.
GLENN O’BRIEN — In your studio in Nevis you have some quite small drawings.
BRICE MARDEN — Well, that’s usually the way it starts. It starts small, then it gets bigger and bigger. The drawing I’m working on for this thing is exhausting. It’s made only of little marks, and it’s a lot. I’ve never made a drawing like it. It’s weird.
GLENN O’BRIEN — How are the studies made?
BRICE MARDEN — They’re all ink.
GLENN O’BRIEN — With a pen or a brush?
BRICE MARDEN — No, sticks.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I thought the sticks were for the paintings.
BRICE MARDEN — No, no. I only use them for the drawings. This is the beginning of the big drawing. The sticks can’t hold paint, but the ink… you can really work it with ink.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Why the stick?
BRICE MARDEN — I was living in this place on Bond Street in the Village, with great ailanthus trees outside, and we saw this beautiful stick. I said, “This is really beautiful; I should be able to draw with that.” So I collected a whole bunch of them, and tried to draw with them. It basically grew out of that. Also, my eyes are changing, so using sticks gave me more distance from the drawing. I could be like 6 feet away using a longer stick. Plus it gives you this whole feel. I’d use sticks like these long ones to give me the distance, but it also gave me this kind of accident. It moved differently. It had more to do with the body moving rather than the wrist.
GLENN O’BRIEN — But when it gets to the painting stage, that’s done with a brush.
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah, it’s all brush. What I do is, I put it on with a long brush, and then I go back in and just work it with a knife. It’s this big, huge expanse that you’re working in, so it’s weird.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Using long sticks seems almost like giving yourself an added obstacle to achieve control over.
BRICE MARDEN — Well, you know, in drawing with it, you get these accidents. You get these splashes and spills, which I like. But then also, each stick you use, you’ve got to figure out how it’s going to behave. So you use the accidents, but usually at the beginning phase of the drawing. Then as I get closer to the end, it comes down to these stubby little sticks on top of it. But it’s still all done with sticks.
GLENN O’BRIEN — So that started on Bond Street?
BRICE MARDEN — Yes. I’m bad with the dates. It’s funny, because our daughter Melia’s restaurant is right downstairs from our old place. I was working for Rauschenberg when I was there.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Rauschenberg was right around the corner on Lafayette.
BRICE MARDEN — Yes. I remember moving into the place, and he paid to have it painted. It was a big deal. Alice Coltrane and Tiger Morris lived in the building just next door.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Now the block is mostly, like, guys from Goldman Sachs. So how did you hook up with Rauschenberg?
BRICE MARDEN — I had my first show at Bykert, and I remember Klaus Kertess had advanced me $700 and canvas. I got the show up, but I was running out of money. It was, like, Tuesday, and they used to have openings on Tuesday nights. I went up to some openings just to ask around about jobs. I saw Dorothea Rockburne and she said, “They might need somebody where I work, so come to this address.” She was working for Rauschenberg. He had just been on some world tour with Merce Cunningham. He had bought the building before he left, and all his stuff was moved in there, but it was just sitting in the middle of the floor. He wanted someone to help him move it all around and figure out what to do with it. He was adjusting. And Dorothea was working for him — because they were old friends from Black Mountain. That’s how I got the job.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Were you into his work?
BRICE MARDEN — Well, yeah. He was a big deal. I was much more into Jasper Johns’ work. I always thought it was good to work for Bob, because I wasn’t so into his work. But it was really great working there, because he was brilliant. Just to be around him was cool. My job was basically to have it all set up so he could work. I very rarely saw him work. He’d work at night. For some things we worked together, but not much.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Did he see your work then?
BRICE MARDEN — Oh, yeah. He knew the work. We’d have shows on at the same time. There was just the show at Larry [Gagosian’s] of stuff from the Rauschenberg collection, and he had a whole bunch of my stuff. I remember having this show and nothing sold. Bob bought two paintings after the show. And there they were up at Larry’s. What you dread from the most horrible collectors is when they sell your stuff off, and there was Rauschenberg’s stuff being sold off by his fucking estate.
GLENN O’BRIEN — It was fascinating to see that show.
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah. When I worked for him, I curated the collection. He just had all this stuff, and I basically measured it and had it photographed. He had a lot of Jasper’s stuff. He had Yves Klein. He had a lot of stuff. He had a Magritte painting. Then while I was there, he bought this big piece of Cy Twombly’s. He had some other things of Cy’s, but he bought this really major blackboard painting from Robert Fraser. He complained it cost him like $15,000 or something.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Were you a fan of Jasper Johns going back to Yale?
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah. I mean, I was involved with Spanish painting, Manet, you know … this whole Realist thing.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Were you making Realistic work?
BRICE MARDEN — No. I had gone to Boston University, which was very conservative. You painted from the figure and that was it. But on my own, I was painting these abstract things. Then I went to the Yale summer school and was painting landscapes and abstract paintings. Basically Abstract Expressionist stuff. Then when I got to Yale full-time, I did this one last self-portrait and that was it. I spent my first year working my way through abstraction. I remember Jack Tworkov, the painter who was a teacher coming in, looking at the painting and saying, “That’s a cliché of Klein; that’s a cliché of de Kooning; that’s a cliché of Miró.” They were always pushing you to get to your own thing. Then the second year I was working with this kind of rectangular format. I thought of them as real! They were abstract, but that was under Jasper’s influence. Like, “This is another real.” Except mine just wasn’t a recognizable image. But then, it was a rectangle, and a rectangle was a recognizable image as far as I was concerned.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I learned a lot about Tworkov and those guys from It Is magazine. Did you know It Is?
BRICE MARDEN — Yes. I’ve been thinking, now there’s a project: get all the It Is magazines. Philip Pavia was the editor.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I was about to say that Tworkov talks about getting rid of the clichés in It Is. There are so many brilliant little manifestos and artist’s statements in that magazine.
BRICE MARDEN — All I remember is Art News, and Art News was like the trade rag. When I went off to art school, my next-door neighbor, who was an advertising guy, gave me a subscription to Art News, which was really very nice. I would read all these Tom Hess articles, “So-and-So paints a painting,” and all those things that were in Art News. But then It Is was much more direct. It was right from the guys, with no Lawrence Campbell in between. But then we really didn’t have access to It Is. I would have been in Boston. It was probably banned in Boston. They’re very conservative
GLENN O’BRIEN — But abstraction was very much a movement.
BRICE MARDEN — Oh, yeah. Those guys would be battling it out.
GLENN O’BRIEN — When you were a student, whose work did you like?
BRICE MARDEN — I liked it all. We’d come down from Boston, and you’d have a list of about 15 galleries, and we would go to all of them and see as much as you could possibly see.
I mean, there was always de Kooning … I heard it more when I was at Yale, because de Kooning was the teacher and we were all trying to figure out what he was doing. I remember Richard Serra coming back, and he found out something about using water emulsion to get the splashes. Then we were all doing that. But Tworkov would come around and say, “Well, this is shit…” But the teachers were great. Alex Katz was a teacher. He was always pushing you to go see a lot of stuff. I remember some abstract painting show at the Guggenheim. He told me to go pick out the ones that
I disliked the most and report back. I said, “Well, I didn’t like this, I didn’t like this…” He said, “Well, you’re not disliking that; you’re disliking an idea.” I was all on these stain guys, Morris Louis and Noland and stuff like that.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Were you doing monochrome stuff then?
BRICE MARDEN — That was after. I was doing maybe like four colors, two colors… Then I moved into the city. I was married and had a kid, living on Avenue C. I was a guard at the Jewish Museum. I guarded the Jasper Johns retrospective and that was a big deal. Then we had this chance to go to Paris, because my in-laws were there. So I went and that was really great. I’d go look at the museums a lot. Then I split up with my wife, came back, went right back to Avenue C. Then it was completely different. I had my friends from Yale. They were beginning to drift into the city. Eventually Max’s opened and I started hanging out there. That’s where I met everybody, at Max’s. I really did a lot of drawing in Paris, because I didn’t have a studio. I went around to museums and galleries. It was great going to the galleries, because they had lots of shit. They would have Balthus, Giacometti, Dubuffet, all these little things scattered all around the gallery. And there was also Ileana Sonnabend — she was showing the Castelli people. Lawrence Rubin had a gallery and he was showing, like, the Greenberg-Emmerich people. So you’d see a really major Frank Stella show, or Nolands and Louises and stuff like that, and Rauschenbergs and Warhols. I remember seeing a Rosenquist show at Ileana’s. Then there was a big Kline retrospective that went on at the Musée d’Art Moderne.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Franz Kline?
BRICE MARDEN — Yes.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Because that was also Yves Klein time in Paris, right?
BRICE MARDEN — Yes. I remember I put together a portfolio and started taking it around to some galleries. At that point I was doing sort of monochromatic and grid drawings. This one guy said, “Are you interested in Klein?” I said, “Yeah, Franz Kline is a huge influence.” He said, “I meant Yves Klein.” It was really great being there, because it was just enough of a hit. There was always this whole thing about Paris. You wanted to go to Paris. All the writers went to Paris and you’d go there, and go around to all the museums and stuff like that, and you’d say, “Well, this is really good, but we’ve got a lot of good stuff in New York, too.” So just being there, getting that little hit of it — I was there for four, five months — it was enough that I didn’t have to worry about the European thing. I knew what was going on in Europe. It gave you another sort of layer of information. Then I got back to New York and was just really into it.
GLENN O’BRIEN — What do you think happened with abstraction? You had people defecting, right?
BRICE MARDEN — Alfred Leslie.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I really love Alfred Leslie’s abstract paintings. I’ll be at an art fair and see something and say, “Wow, who did that?” And it’s an old Leslie. But the later stuff … it just confuses me. He’s still going.
BRICE MARDEN — I loved his abstract stuff. I thought it was really great, the paintings he was doing at Yale. People say, “Oh, were you looking at Alfred Leslie?” The hipper people. [laughs] But there was that whole thing about Castelli. I remember Joan Mitchell being livid about Castelli, basically saying “He killed Abstract Expressionism” because he started showing the Pop artists. I always thought Pop Art was just the return of Realism in a kind of glib disguise. Basically, it really took over. It was very clever marketing on Leo’s part, because he sort of spread it around so it looked bigger than it was. I don’t know whether he actually strategized that or what.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Andy desperately wanted to be at Castelli. Castelli had Lichtenstein, Johns and Rauschenberg, but then finally Andy got in and I think he had a bit of a grudge. De Kooning called him “a killer of art” or “a hater of beauty.” But it’s interesting how abstract artists defected. There were Leslie and Philip Guston. There must have been more.
BRICE MARDEN — Well, Guston was a big deal. While I was at the Jewish Museum, Guston had a big show. It was these black paintings. I always thought they were some of his best. They were the last abstract paintings. Then he started doing the Ku-Kluxers. I felt like this was a committed abstract painter, and I thought this was the way painting should be going and that it had really opened it up to a much more personal experience. You weren’t so guided by an image; you just had this thing that you had to more personally respond to. I thought that was like some great advance. I’ve basically been thinking that way ever since, but now I just don’t feel so dogmatic about it. There’s this constant thing about painting being dead and it isn’t. There are people doing very valid, advanced painting.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I think “painting is dead” was just a way for the Conceptual artists to advertise themselves. “We’re the next thing.” They acted like they were reacting against the market and all that, but then they wound up marketing themselves in much the same way, just with different tactics.
BRICE MARDEN — I remember when Conceptual art came out, I said, “They’re just really trying to figure out how to market it, how to make a profit.” Then suddenly they did have a profit.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Maybe young artists felt like everything had been done in abstraction and that was a way to break out, to brand themselves in an easier way.
BRICE MARDEN — Then there was this whole second generation of Abstract Expressionists, who basically…
GLENN O’BRIEN — You mean like Larry Poons and Larry Zox…
BRICE MARDEN — No. Michael Goldberg. Joan Mitchell. Larry Rivers. Rivers was always sort of Pop-y.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I think Larry Rivers is really underrated now, actually.
BRICE MARDEN — A lot of it is underrated, but then a lot of Rivers just really fell flat. There was a certain point where it almost looked like some sort of breakdown.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Did you feel like Pop Art was reactionary, or later that the Neo-Expressionist stuff was reactionary in a way?
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah. I thought, “Ah, this is too easy to get.”
GLENN O’BRIEN — It’s funny, because I was working for Andy in 1970 and he would talk about the Abstract Expressionists, and he’d say, “They’re too introspective; that’s why Pollock killed himself.” Andy’s thing was claiming he didn’t want to think. [laughs]
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah, yeah, but he was such a brilliant thinker!
GLENN O’BRIEN — He didn’t want to think about his problems. He was a strategic thinker.
BRICE MARDEN — Amy Sillman wrote an article, I guess it was in Artforum, where she talks about Abstract Expressionism as this really macho thing. It was “these guys” and they’re all drinking and hairy-chested. All that stuff. She talked about it like it’s a joke. I had never really thought about that, but there was this kind of overblown macho masculinity thing, and the women painters who were involved sort of had to be that way, too. Joan Mitchell had to be tough and hard. But I was just so shocked when I read that article. It just dismissed it, like it was this silliness. I remember some critic complaining about a hairy-chested interview that I did for some magazine. There’s always that kind of shit. Now I don’t have the faintest fuckin’ idea of what’s going on in terms of what’s being made and all that. I mean it’s not that I don’t have the faintest idea, it’s that I don’t really care.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Well, I think now anything goes, really. The art market is big enough to sustain different streams. But in a way I think it’s lost some kind of its energy. I admire the energy of It Is, that clubby feeling. That idea of experiment and adventure.
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah. They made this real commitment. Those guys had been fighting this thing for years. They all started out as kind of Realists and they did this breakthrough, but they weren’t accepted. There was this small art world … the Cedar Bar was like the center of the universe.
GLENN O’BRIEN — But it also had this kind of romantic spirit that jazz had at the same time — improvisation and discovery — that seems missing today.
BRICE MARDEN — Well yeah, they couldn’t wait for the shows. The shows didn’t come one right after the other. It was like every two years or something. Then a show would come along and you’d talk all about it, discuss it, debate it.
GLENN O’BRIEN — One of the things that you’ve done is hold out the idea that there’s a certain kind of magic to it.
BRICE MARDEN — That was all part of the Abstract Expressionism thing. I mean, they weren’t mystics. Well, some of them were actually. But subject matter came back in a really strong way with the Pop thing, and when subject matter came back, it seemed opposed to the idea of a more abstract or, say, mystical painting, and against the idea that other things were coming out of a painting rather than real imagistic pieces of information.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I think one of the key differences with abstract painting is that the idea of beauty was still very much there. But with Pop Art it became more or less, “Well, beauty is over now; this is the era of wit.”
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah. Wit and comment.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I understand the reason for that. I do think it’s the artist’s job to comment on our visual environment and process it — or it’s part of the artist’s job — but at the same time there’s still the sublime, which can’t go untended.
BRICE MARDEN — Well, it shouldn’t. I think the sublime can be addressed. Has to be.
GLENN O’BRIEN — It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. Right?
BRICE MARDEN — Well, yeah. Then we get into a situation where the abstraction became very much, “What you see is what is there and what you see is what you get.” That whole Realist aspect. No bullshit. I used to get totally embarrassed because I’d make a statement or something and it would be this romantic stuff. In terms of what was going on at the time it was silly — or open to mockery. I always felt as though I was the Dumb Artist believing in this kind of stuff rather than being really smart like Stella and Judd. There was a rationale for everything they did and I didn’t have any rationale. I was still painting as an Abstract Expressionist.
GLENN O’BRIEN — But you were smart enough not to editorialize on it.
BRICE MARDEN — No, but I guess I did the hairy-chested interview. [laughs] It’s out there somewhere. I made those statements that keep getting quoted. At Yale you had to write a thesis in support of what you were submitting and mine gets quoted all the time. It was like, you know, “It’s more about the spiritual,” blah-blah-blah. Or “I don’t really quite know what I’m doing…”
It accepted a kind of vagueness. It wasn’t brilliantly conceived and worked out. But I always thought I still wanted the hand involved. I wanted it to look human. I got to New York and there were all these guys coming from California, and they were all making spray paintings and they wanted no hand at all.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Well there are a lot of little smart things that you’ve said scattered out there after your thesis remarks. You said some really interesting things about the marble paintings, about Greece and how you are working in a sort of rediscovery of that Western tradition. I think a lot of people would look at your work and say, “Oh, that’s like Japanese brush painting,” or Chinese calligraphy and whatever. But you always insisted that you’re a Western artist.
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah. I’m a Western artist. The Chinese stuff really opened up a lot for me, but I remember Al Taylor saying, “Oh, you guys, all you think about is Greek art.” I said, “Well, what do you think about?” He said, “I think about African art.” He didn’t want to think of Western art. I remember being shocked at that. It served him well, I guess. But you get to a point where you kind of go through Northern painting, you go through Italian Renaissance, you spend all these periods really looking at it hard, and you go look at the real stuff and you just kind of run out of things to look at. Then for me bumping into this calligraphy, and the idea that there was this whole other form that doesn’t exist in Western art, that offered possibilities. But then again, using the whole calligraphic setup is basically another form of grid painting.
GLENN O’BRIEN — But I think people read into it. When you were doing the Cold Mountain paintings, you weren’t really relating it to the content. It was about the way they looked, right? I suppose the content was a nice romantic extra.
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah. I found this book where they were written out in Chinese, but I was never trying to make Chinese characters. I was just making my own fictitious calligraphy. Through this layering, one hopes, diverse drawing opportunities open up. All layers or joinings of “character” or “characters” mark my own fictitious calligraphy.
GLENN O’BRIEN — It’s not about what it says as much as the way it looks, I think.
BRICE MARDEN — There’s a lot of that in Chinese calligraphy and, I guess, in Japanese calligraphy. What initially set me off about it all was the big show of Japanese calligraphy at Asia House. But then right away I got much more involved with Chinese calligraphy, because it seemed less elegant, a rougher kind of drawing. The Chinese thing seemed klutzy. But it was really beautiful stuff. You know, they can’t read it. I mean, a lot can, but it’s not necessary. I’m not going to try to learn how to speak or read Chinese. I’d rather not be able to and just accept it. I talk to people and they say, “This is how you make a character” or “Here’s how you look at a scroll.” They go through the whole thing as to how it’s made and you start to get into some other kind of feeling about a piece, maybe, but you still don’t in the end. What’s it going to say? “Snow on the mountains?” That kind of thing.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Years ago I’d bump into you and you’d ask me what music I was listening to. I got the impression you listen to music when you work. Is that the case?
BRICE MARDEN — I don’t so much any more, but I used to. I had this studio on the Bowery for a long time and it was very noisy, so I’d use music to try to block out the noise. I’d have a bunch of paintings and have to figure out some sort of music that went with them.
GLENN O’BRIEN — There’s a lot of rhythm in the work.
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah. I remember doing one group of paintings, and it was just all Toscanini conducting Beethoven symphonies, and they were really heavy paintings! But now I listen to a lot of country-western music. I mean, I listen to other things, but my tastes aren’t terribly esoteric.
GLENN O’BRIEN — I used to listen to music when I worked, but I had to listen to instrumentals. Otherwise the words would leak into what I was writing.
BRICE MARDEN — I listen to NPR. But as soon as it comes on I basically stop trying to work. You can’t listen to all these people talking and work.
GLENN O’BRIEN — You work in a lot of places: Greece, Nevis, Pennsylvania. Is it the same everywhere? I liked the idea of that painting you’re making, a five-studio painting. Or did I make that up?
BRICE MARDEN — No. I have this project that I’m slowly working on where I have the same set-up for a group of paintings in Nevis, and a group of paintings here, and a group of paintings upstate, just to see what the differences will be. I only have one painting finished. That’s a Nevis one, and it doesn’t look especially tropical or anything. But then I figured, “Well, fine, I’ll just leave it.” It was worked out in a certain way. The paintings get worked out in a way now that they weren’t being worked out in maybe five years ago. I’ll work it, paint over it, paint back into it. When I say “paint over it,” I’ll put a coat of paint on, scrape it. I make a lot of corrections and that leads to other things. Then I can see what’s there, rework that, and then paint over it again, rework it… It’s like a conversation. I’m much more self-conscious about that now. Whereas before I was sort of forced to do it because the painting just got too messy and wasn’t clear enough. Now I’m using it more as a working method. I’m not trying to clean it up. I’m trying to give the painting a kind of extension in time. It has a little history to it. I’ve got this painting, it’s my Polke painting. I had started this group of paintings and one had the most wild and confused start. I sort of left it aside and was working on the others. Then Polke died. I’m a big Polke fan, so I thought, well, I’ll dedicate this to him, just work on this with him in mind. So at every intersection where lines crossed, I put a colored line to mark through that intersection, just because I didn’t have anything else to do with the painting, it was so fucked up. And then I used that as sort of a way of getting back into it. They weren’t like polka-dots, or Polke dots, but I figured that he was a much more experimental painter than myself. I would do things in this painting that I wouldn’t ordinarily and try to leave out things that I would normally paint — to have that kind of thinking be my guide. But I don’t know what his thinking was, really. Somehow by thinking about him all this stuff came into the painting. I believe you can get this stuff in a painting. When it gets very conceptual and cold, you don’t get it in it. I want that in it. But then, you go and talk about it and they all think that’s bullshit. And so it is. But I would go to the wall for it. I don’t feel like I have to. It just seems to me that there’s a lot of painting going on where the paint is sort of getting thrown at the canvas, and there’s a look about it. It’s a lot of style. I just think it should be a bit more urgent.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Christopher Wool’s approach is really interesting. It begins with spontaneous painting, but then he’ll look at it and maybe make a silkscreen of some gesture, and then reuse it, edit the spontaneous. Wordsworth said that poetry is “powerful emotions recollected in tranquility.” I think that’s a vital process.
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah. I think Wool is really one of the more interesting painters now. It’s weird. His stuff is making a lot more sense to me. There’s this whole thing where you do one thing and then you do another. There is a real play back and forth of what’s going on in the painting.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Is that why you’re photographing work in progress now? What’s that about?
BRICE MARDEN — A lot of it is just helping to remember what was there. Lots of times there’s a drawing that’s worked out, with things crossing over and things going behind that you want to maintain, but when you paint it out you sort of lose it. You can always go back to the photograph. It’s a reference, basically. I did a catalog once for a group of paintings called “Epitaph Paintings,” and they were based on these Chinese epitaphs, rubbings of real epitaphs. This guy I know who deals Chinese stuff said, “I’ve got these things and I don’t know how to sell them.”
I said, “Let’s do a show.” Just like Judy Garland. “Let’s do a show.” So I took those things and I did a drawing, and then another drawing, and then blew it up and so on. So in that catalog, we have different Polaroids of different stages. It’s interesting. Not important, but it’s for the audience. The ones who look at work the hardest are other artists and students. You want to be able to provide them with as much information as possible. You don’t have to, but someone said, “Why don’t you give a talk.” I mean, I don’t want to talk to the ladies’ auxiliary, but I’ll talk in an art school.
GLENN O’BRIEN — My air-conditioner leaked on my notes. I had this quote from Guston that I thought related to this, but now I can hardly read it. “Only our surprise that the unforeseen was seen as fated, allows the arbitrary to disappear.”
BRICE MARDEN — Fated?
GLENN O’BRIEN — Yeah, fated. I think what he was saying was that a painting kind of makes itself.
BRICE MARDEN — Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d totally go for that. There’s a certain point where it’s out of your control. I think there should be that point. I mean, everyone is always saying, “How do you know when a painting is finished?” It’s basically that. It tells you. You don’t tell it.
GLENN O’BRIEN — Did we leave anything out?
BRICE MARDEN — [laughs]
GLENN O’BRIEN — The interview is telling me we’re done.
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