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John Marin was an American painter born in New Jersey in 1870, and died in 1953. Marin began drawing simple sketches at age eight and created his first watercolor at age 18, which would be the bases for his entire career. "Looking up Fifth Avenue from 30th street" by John Marin shows his unmatched skill with watercolor, a background in architecture, and strong influence from European Cubists to advance a truly American Modernist painting.
John Marin began sketching and drawing at age eight and started to delve into the area of watercolor at the age of 18. His first attempts with watercolor showed elements of impressionism, Tonalism, and aberrations of form Marin later developed. One such example of Marin's early style showing Tonalism is his hill landscape. Marin's early Tonalist influence comes from artists such as Dwight Tryon. Although at a young age he began to show great interest in art and painting, he pursued a career in architecture first, where he gained experience as a draftsman. By 1893 he had worked for four architects and designed six different houses in New Jersey.
Marin began pursuing his artistic talent further and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia from 1899-1901 under Thomas Anshutz, and then the Art Students League in New York from 1901-1903. Thomas Anshutz himself studied in Paris and the academy where he later taught, his style is very naturalistic in his own works. He is notable for not only teaching John Marin, but also several painters who became known as the Ashcan school, such painters include names like: Robert Henri, George Luks and William Glackens. After attending these institutes, Marin traveled abroad in 1905 and stayed in Europe for the next five years. While there He worked in Paris during the winter and traveled throughout Europe during the summer. During this time he produced mainly etchings for the first couple years and then by 1907 he began focusing more on watercolor and oil paintings for his personal enjoyment. During his travels Marin became interested in the work of James Whistler and Neoimpressionism. During this time Marin joined the New Society of American Artists in Paris, which brought connections that greatly helped Marin's career. Through this society he became part of the Stieglitz circle and Alfred Stieglitz, a prominent photographer and gallery owner at the time. Stieglitz became a avid supporter of Marin and in 1910. displayed Marins work in a permanent venue in his Gallery 291 in New York. This provided Marin with guaranteed income so that he could focus more on developing his painting style. During this time he briefly studied Cubism and Fauvism, which later left their mark on his work.
As Marin moved back to the United States in 1911 his work became increasingly abstract, his subjects began to show more energy and tension, which became the extent of his modernistic style. Marin preferred to paint objects that responded to logical pull of gravity and infusing luminous atmospheric effects, most often this was an urban scene. When Marin moved back to the U. S. he began to focus on New York as his subject for painting. Previously he had integrated painting and drawing to produce a whistlerian haze using Tonalism, now had a more quickened sense of line under areas of color, thickened into independent segments of widened brushstrokes. This use of "ray lines" can be seen in his work from 1910, but he began to consciously use it in 1914. Later in life his use of line increased and his style was reduced to calligraphic elements of paralleling abstract expressionism. In 1912 he began to use color arbitrarily, and he initiated a more intimate relationship with his subject matter. Marin no longer sought the general, but an energized equivalent he began to feel through all matter and moved the objects of the world. This influence seems to come from Cezanne and Pablo Picasso, who's works were shown in Stieglitz's gallery in 1911. The Orphists and Futurists might have also influenced his work. This style revealed itself in works like "Movement, Fifth Avenue" and established him as a premier modernist.
After exhibiting his work at the Armory show of 1913, Marin spent most of his summers in Maine, where he painted distillations of coastal themes and simultaneously experimented with abstract compositions based on geometric motifs. He began to observe landscapes and seascapes with impulsive patternmaking and abstract lines. In the 1920's he began to use the "frame within the frame" technique, in which thickened lines tie disparate images together. This compositional arrangement accented the flatness of the surface, but also the depth suggested by the subject within the frame. Marins work during this time was controlled and expressionistic. His brilliant use of brush strokes allowed him to make objects present frontally or dissolve into the background. He rarely used human subjects in his works, but if they were present it was part of his design scheme rather than principal subjects.
In 1936 Marin was honored with a retrospective exhibit at the museum of modern art. At this time Marsden Hartley wrote in the catalog "you will never see water colors like those of John Marin again so take a good look and remember." It was this same year that Marin painted "looking up Fifth Avenue from 30th Street". This piece shows the complete advancement of Marin's style. Marin uses line to create shape and form, as apposed to differentiation in color or value contrast. His use of line allows him to create a much more abstract feel, as well is vary thickness to make give it greater depth and importance of certain areas, allowing them to be very frontal or dissolve into the background. It also shows his previous study of cubism and his background in architecture, which breaks down his piece to the purely geometric shapes and emphasis of the structure rather than the natural forms making it almost seem like a blueprint. Although his study of Cubism was brief, it made a very significant contribution to his works, and without that influence he could have been just another artist. This also ties in to the industrial time in America where big cities Like New York were the new symbol of the country that created wonder with its huge buildings as apposed to its simple geometric designs. His lines unite his composition and give it variation in value to create compositional interest. In addition he uses them to break up the composition giving it a much more abstract feel. Although Marin relies heavily on his use of lines to break up and unite his composition, he does use just enough variation to create great interest. This slight color change shows Marin's early interest in Tonalism, as well as Whistlerian haze, to create a feel of snow or possibly fog in the big city of New York. This depiction of New York is very accurate because just like Marin's use of line, the buildings and skyscrapers unite the city as a whole, but also divide it, creating a sense of overwhelming chaos or activity. Marin emphasizes this even more by the small figure of a person that focuses the attention of the piece and offers a contrasting color. Also Marin's use of line seems to direct or draw your attention to the person purposefully. This piece was done not long before Marin began to re-explore his early styles in the 1940's only to return to his emphasis of line in 1947.
What gave Marin his unmatched skill with watercolor was not just his use of it in his brushstroke, but his subtle color variation strengthened by line. Most of Marin's work is Tonalism, which uses variations of the same color and less individual distinct colors, so Marin creates his objects using line as apposed to color variation. This in turn makes his slight color variation stand out more and become stronger. Marin is considered the greatest watercolor painter of all time not just because of how he uses it, but because of how he incorporated other concepts and styles to emphasize it beyond what is capable by itself.