Thursday, July 25, 2024

Remembering the Great Artist Brice Marden: A Memory of One of the Lasting Legends of our Culture

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You know the old adage: I would have paid more attention had I realized how important it was. In 1983 when I taught a summer writing workshop in Tangier with Paul Bowles at the American School of Tangier, the School of Visual Arts under the leadership of founder Silas Rhodes invited a distinguished faculty that included Brice Marden.

With reverence for the history of Tangier as an artists’ mecca, Marden and his family, his wife Helen Marden, their two girls, Mirabelle and Melia (5 and 3), and an au pair, were given the room Henri Matisse occupied when he resided at the Villa de France Hotel. I lived in the room next door. The view was over the sumptuous gardens which Matisse painted in his modernist style. Marden’s style, blocks of color did not seem suited to palm foliage and flora, nor to the colors but he surely absorbed the vibe.

At breakfast on the terrace, the girls seemed extraordinarily well behaved. Having already met the man I would marry, my fears about life as a wife and mother were allayed by seeing this family living free to travel and explore. Helen, an artist who had waitressed at Max’s Kansas City, would say, to acclimate to a culture, eat their yogurt and onions, and drink their wine.

At times, Brice and Helen, and whoever was teaching—that could be photographer Mary Ellen Mark, or graphic designer Milton Glaser, or type designer Ed Benguiat, or journalist Pete Hamill, would meet at the hotel bar. Because Brice was a fan of the beat writers, we had a connection through the poetry—I had written on Jack Kerouac and knew William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, all of whom spent time in Tangier. And, we smoked kif together. He did a series, an homage to the Chinese poet Han Shan named for his “Cold Mountain” poems. Han Shan, famously a reclusive drunk, was the inspiration for Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums and poems by Gary Snyder.

On a random evening Brice and I had dinner at the Claridge, a classy joint on the main boulevard, Louis Pasteur. Visiting Tangier this summer, I had Brice on my mind as I passed the former restaurant now a bit run down. Sadly, Brice Marden died August 9th at age 84.

I would say I glimpsed one of the great painters of our age, whose work even when I knew him then was way ahead.

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