Editor's note: The following texte were rekeyed and reprinted on July 10, 2007 in Resource Library with permission of Eaton Fine Art, Inc. The texte were excerpted from the illustrated catalogue for the exhibition Expression and Meaning: The Marine Paintings of John Marin held January 8 - March 6, 1999 at Eaton Fine Art, West Palm Beach, FL. If you have questions or comments regarding the texte, or if you are interested in obtaining a copy of the catalogue, please contact Eaton Fine Art at either this web address or phone number:
by Timothy A. Eaton
EARTH, SUN AND SEA: John Marin's lyric image
by Sam Hunter
Edited by Timothy A. Eaton
by Timothy A. Eaton
At the age of 44, in the summer of 1914, John Marin heeded the siren's song and moved to the coast of Maine. He was, however, not lured to his destruction on the shore's jagged rocks but lived rhapsodically there for the rest of his life. The constant and constantly variable sea never failed to inspire Marin and provided, as it has for artists throughout history, a source of awe. In this singular subject he found the font for his personal and aesthetic quest. A search the artist began decades earlier in the countryside of New Jersey and continued through the villages of Europe, the boulevards of Paris, the streets of New York City and the high plains of New Mexico was reconciled on the shores of Maine. Marin sought a subject, much like his own personality, taut with kinetic and expressive energy, relentless and self-styled, that would engage him in a dialogue at once frenetic and sublime. In washes of watercolor and slathers of oil paint, Marin fixed images of the boundless energy of life itself -- the earth's primordial forces -- in marine paintings that resonate today with the same vitality and vivid intensity as when he created them.
John Marin was an original. His mature style was his own, none preceded nor followed it, though shards of evidentiary influences from the past and traces from him to the present can be found. Marin sought to show a sense of life's imbued and incarnate energy -- its essence -- in everything he painted, from the heaving and pulsing of a building or a street to the gentle rustling of leaves on trees, although it was in his marine paintings that he found the perfect vehicle for his poetic investigation. In Marin's transcendental pursuit to capture the energy of Maine's coastal environment he created paintings that express the meaning beneath the force. In this inquiry, Marin shows a distinctly American vision of the world.
John Marin was a contrary and iconoclastic individual enamored with the wilderness. His outlook was deeply rooted in a 19th century American ethos shared with a long-standing Yankee literary and artistic tradition. Like the writers Emerson, Melville and Whitman, the painters Cole, Church and Heade, and the mid-western architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Marin's abiding deference to the elemental forces of nature was the constant that informed and defined his work. Yet his early, highly innovative work in New York City was an eloquent testament to the dynamic power and prescient face of the modern world. Even though Marin remained dedicated to a rural way of life, he was a quirky and somewhat foppish character who also moved easily in the rarefied atmosphere of New York's cultural society through his association with the great art impresario, Alfred Stieglitz. It is partially this polarity of impulses and interests that distinguishes Marin's art and sets him apart from his contemporaries as well as the entire field of twentieth century Modernism.
Beginning with Marin himself and continuing through every art historian and critic, his work was proclaimed to be representational, even though at times the images were so obscured by the artist's vigorous, ambidextrous expression that they were rendered completely illegible. So, regardless of how they appeared they were not, for Marin, abstract. His intention was paramount and therefore utterly modern. The duality of Marin's expression and intention adds to the speciousness of our under- standing of the artist and the man. In this exhibition and catalogue, we hope to address the paradox that is John Marin by examining the paintings of his favorite muse: the sea and its shore.
Sam Hunter's essay reviews Marin's familiar history with fresh insight and the acute knowledge of the most cogent issues in art today. His retrospective analysis of Marin's influences and character, (he met the artist), gives new perspective and understanding to the dichotomous nature of one of the most important artists of the twentieth century.
1 At times, Marin painted with a brush in both hands simultaneously. See MacKinley Helm, John Man :(Boston, Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1948), p. 68.
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