Must-See Art Show | Becoming John Marin

Energized by the pace, noise, and scale of the modern burgeoning city, John Marin (1870-1953) pushed color and line to the point of abstraction, and he did it with watercolor! Unusual for an artist coming of age in the 19th century, when watercolor was still associated with amateur, often female, artists, he chose it as his primary medium. For Marin—an improvisational piano player as well— watercolor had much in common with jazz in terms of evoking emotion and sensation. This month, the American modernist’s expressive watercolors and etchings are the subject of a new exhibition.

On January 26, the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock will open “Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work,” an exhibition featuring plein air watercolors and drawings from the institution’s own collection. The exhibition will “illustrate the artist’s evolution as he transformed from intuitive draftsman to innovative watercolorist and etcher,” the Center said.

watercolor John Marin
John Marin, “On Mount Desert, Maine,” 1920, watercolor and charcoal with graphite on paper, 14 x 16 3/4 inches, Arkansas Art Center

“As the second largest repository of works by John Marin in the world, the Arkansas Arts Center’s 290-work collection is surpassed only by that of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. ‘Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work’ features 79 works from this exceptional collection, donated to the Arts Center by the artist’s daughter-in-law, Norma Marin, in 2013. These pieces will be shown alongside 33 distinguished Marin works loaned by outstanding public and private collections.”

watercolor landscape
John Marin, “Manhattan Skyline from the River,” 1909-12, watercolor over graphite on paper, 11 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches, Arkansas Art Center

“Drawing was central to Marin’s artistic process, and he made thousands throughout his career,” curator Ann Prentice Wagner said. “‘Becoming John Marin’ looks over the artist’s shoulder as he created and honed the private sketches he would interpret into completed watercolors and etchings.”

watercolor landscape
John Marin, “Landscape, Ramapo Mountains, New Jersey,” 1942, watercolor and charcoal on paper, 14 3/4 x 17 1/8 inches, Arkansas Art Center

The museum continued, “Marin was one of America’s outstanding modernists, from his 1909 debut exhibition of watercolors at Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery in New York, until his death in 1953. The eccentric New Jersey native was a major force among the cutting-edge modern artists who gathered around Stieglitz. Marin is best known for his lively, idiosyncratic watercolors, etchings, and oil paintings of gritty urban New York and the natural coast of Maine.”

To learn more, visit the Arkansas Art Center.

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