Ed McCormack, editor-in-chief Gallery and Studio – New York, NY (2001)
It is always heartening to watch a gifted artist come into possession of his full powers, as has been the case over the last half decade with the Texas painter, Truman Marquez, whose progress this writer has been monitoring since 1997, when Marquez first became a formidable presence on the New York exhibition scene. From the beginning, Marquez has displayed an ambition as large as the state he hails from and a vision to match. But in order to trace his trajectory to the triumph of the present moment it behooves one to take a brief glance backward and examine some of his sources.
First, it is important to acknowledge Marquez is a consummately sophisticated painter, steeped in the traditions of modernism, yet irreverent enough to take poetic liberties in order to forge his own postmodern path throughout the thicket of art history.
His admirations for Gauguin and Picasso have always been especially evident even as he took on his elders with an almost Oedipal zeal. In the case of Gauguin, some of his tributes at times verged on appropriation. Yet, Marquez’s own painterly personality has invariably prevailed, even in the compositions that were a veritable reprise of some of Gauguin’s signature themes. One of Marquez’s early paintings (or at least one of the first works this writer first encountered) was entitled Teki Tiki and it deconstructed familiar motifs of Gauguin with a bravado that can only be likened to the chutzpah with which Julian Schnabel earlier staked out his territory in the consciousness of critics and collectors. In his large oil canvas of comely Gauguin-like beauties lolling languorously in an exotic setting, yet painted in sinuous, flowing outlines and strident color areas characteristic of Marquez alone, this intrepid painter similarly staked his claim on our attention. At the same time, Marquez’s almost diagrammatic linear emphasis on the balances and the harmonious rhythms between the figurative and landscape elements, showed his appreciation of the older artist, not as the Barbarian or noble savage that he liked to fancy himself, but as the clandestine classicist that one critic rightly dubbed him. Here, Marquez seemed to be alerting us that for all his own brash painterly pyrotechnics, he too was building his aesthetic on a solid classical armature.
Just as revealing was yet another early work by Marquez called Blue Horse, which takes as its point of origin a painting that should be familiar to anyone who knows the work of Picasso. In Marquez’s painting of a naked boy leading a horse, however, we are forced to view a familiar subject anew, as transformed by an artist capable of looking beyond the more superficial aspects of an image so familiar that it has, along with much of Picasso’s neoclassical phase and so called Blue period, come to be regarded as almost banal. Indeed, Marquez’s highly subjective rendition breaths new life into the master’s theme, as though heeding Pound’s exhortation to all artists to make it new! Marquez succeeded in Blue Horse – by virtue of his subtle linear reworking of established contours, his vigorous brushwork, and his colorist variations-in simultaneously advancing an instructive art historical analysis and creating a highly original work of contemporary art.
Like any good artist, of course, Marquez himself would not spell it out quite so pedantically, as he made clear in a recent statement: Given that I am a painter, not a writer, I prefer to allow my paintings to speak for themselves and be viewed without any predetermined intent made known through my writing.
[blockquote blockquote_style=”boxed” align=”left” text_align=”left”] “Given that I am a painter, not a writer, I prefer to allow my paintings to speak for themselves and be viewed without any predetermined intent made known through my writing”. [/blockquote]
That Marquez has upped the colorist ante in his recent work is obvious in his new solo exhibition at Montserrat Gallery. The most striking example is the brilliant red background that enlivened two canvases respectively entitled Red Violin and Red Violin 2. Here, too, one is struck by a complementary formal emboldening that lends these and other new oils on canvas an impact that is remarkable even for an artist like Marquez, who has never been timid to begin with. As their title indicates, both of these paintings take the figure of a violinist as the starting point for forays into color and form that recall in various of their aspects, the figural distortions of Picasso, the coloristic purity of Matisse, and Leger’s use of bold outlines to emphasize sensual contours. That said, the way in which Marquez deconstructs and reassembles the human figure is uniquely his own, as seen in both Red Violin, Red Violin 2 and Violinist from Above a related painting in various blue monochromes activated by powerful draftsmanship and energetic brush strokes.
In fact, all three canvases are views of the figure from above, its contours swelling to fill the composition in a especially dynamic manner, Marquez’s draftsmanly command makes it possible for him to depict the figure in this difficult position, emphasizing and exaggerating its foreshortening as it pushes outward from the center toward the edges of the canvas.
This creates dynamically compressed configurations that draw the entire composition as tight as a violin string. In all three paintings, this formal device lends the painting a vertiginous, about to burst formal tension-as if the image is in danger of expanding and sending the very stretchers flying out from beneath the canvas!
Here, too, color contributes to the overall effect and heightens the very different moods of the three paintings. While both pictures with vibrant red backgrounds, complimented by other bright hues, such as yellow and orange, express the joy inherent in the act of making music-and by extension, the exhilaration of the creative process in general-the monochromatic blue canvas appears to deal with the downside of the creative process: the almost suicidal frustration that every artist must face when the Muse refuses to be summoned. In the latter composition, the severely foreshortened musician is seen clutching its head while the abandoned violin lies bent and broken, as does the frenzied paint application, with its insistent linear strokes of dark and lighter pigment burrowing into the canvass like furrows in a worried brow.
A contrasting quality of repose can be seen in Two Bathers from Above, another large oil on canvas executed in a considerably brighter hues augmented by a much more relaxed line. Marquez’s classical underpinnings are evident in the sublime organization of this composition, which depicts a nude woman pouring water from a vase into a tub in which a man is bathing. Marquez is at his most sublime as a colorist in this picture, which is closer to Matisse than Picasso, an effect enhanced by the relatively flat paint application. The ornate rug beneath the yellow tub is brilliant cadmium red, while the woman’s skin is painted a darker red hue, more on the order of crimson. In keeping with the non-naturalistic color employed in this canvas, the man is bright green, while the bathwater is a clear vibrant blue hue. The flat, sharply defined color areas create a perfect foil for Marquez’s articulate line, flowing gracefully to define the sensual contour of the female figure’s crimson buttocks rhyming with the rounded form of the white vase that she tilts toward the tub, as well as the angular musculature of the male figure receiving her tender ministrations.
Increasingly, even as he continues to evoke the figure convincingly, Truman Marquez pushes his forms closer to abstraction, as seen in the magnificent mural-scale figure composition entitled Four Nudes in a Field. Fully eight feet high by ten feet long, this painting invites comparison with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon, although it is actually much larger than its famous predecessor.
[blockquote]In Marquez’s painting however, he employs a more cursive vocabulary of forms, rather than the angular shapes derived from African sculpture that served as the foundation for cubism, to create a rhythmic composition whose only contemporary counterpart can be found in the classical appropriations of George Condo. The difference, though is that the facile Condo invariably introduces a note of irony that Marquez eschews in favor of passionate formal exploration. [/blockquote]
This refusal to hedge his bets in the accepted postmodern fashion gives Marquez the edge, for his painting transcends the boundaries of Camp to make an epic statement. Indeed, Four Nudes in a Field is an ambitious undertaking, suggesting that contemporary painting need not avoid risk in the interest of fashionable irony; that it can still aspire to be heroic.
In other recent paintings, such as Standing Nude (not seen here) and Yellow Violin, Marquez deliberately adopts aspects of cubist structuring to create intricate compositions in which the entire picture surface is animated with color areas connected by bold black outlines in the manner of a mosaic. In the former painting, the standing figure emerges from a welter of angular shapes with striations that suggest the formation of muscle fiber. These intricate linear patterns, enclosing the rearview of a sinewy nude, its gender not readily discernable, create, a literal sense of what we mean when we speak of muscularity as a quality in a painting-albeit here created with intense concentration to articulate form, rather than with a thick build up of pigment.
By contrast Yellow Violin* is a much larger painting in which a violin and a bow are combined with a variety of abstract shapes described in thick black outline. In this painting both the linear elements and the color scheme share a certain kinship with Fernand Leger, as well as with the strong graphic thrust of the Sunday comics. Marquez, however, merges elements of still life and pure abstraction in a unique manner, suggesting his art is still in flux, still in a state of constant evolution.
Indeed, that is the true value of a painter like Truman Marquez: his willingness to take risks that result, more often than not, in the successful synthesis of the classical and the immediate. Already, Marquez has arrived at a maturity that eludes most painters at mid career. Yet he continues to search and to grow, and to witness the process is nothing short of thrilling.