Tuesday, December 23, 2014

John Marin: Waiting Upon The Landscape

Blue Sea                                                                John Marin, American, 1945

In 1969, I was introduced to John Marin's (1870-1953) work when David Grimsted took his history class to the Phillips Gallery for an exploration of American culture through the artist's eye. Not sure how much history was absorbed that day, but I left with a deep appreciation of John Marin's work that is still going strong after 45 years.

Marin was born on this day in Rutherford, New Jersey, in the midst of the nation's struggling recovery from the Civil War. He was trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, spent a few years searching for his muse in Europe, then returned to his home country where he continued perfecting his technique in watercolors. He was almost forty before his serious breakthrough into the art world that included an exhibit at the famous Armory Show of 1913. A decade later he had attracted the attention of major collectors including Duncan Phillips whose world-renowned collection of modern art would form the core of the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Lower New York From The Bridge                         John Marin, 1914

The period from 1870 to 1920 was a transitional one as the United States evolved into the world's leading economy. As one of the first modernists in American art, John Marin had a strong influence on the transition of painting and illustration well into the 20th century. I enjoy his balance of realism and abstraction, the opacity of color, and the fact that he interpreted both nature and its cultural overlay. 

For more information on the techniques that made Marin so significant, here is a brief video, "John Marin's Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism,"  produced by the Art institute of Chicago:

How to paint the landscape: First you make your bow to the landscape. Then you wait, and if the landscape bows to you, then, and only then, can you paint the landscape.
                                                                                                      John Marin

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