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Tom Marioni

American, b. 1937

22 Line Drawings

Graphite on paper
14 x 10.875 in. (35.56 x 27.623 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

Tom Marioni compared the process of making 22 Line Drawings to fencing. “It’s about reach,” he said. He approached the task by attaching sheets of paper with pale beige aquatint backgrounds to a wall at varying heights and then, standing in front of each and using a four-color pencil, “attacked” the sheets, making strokes from top to bottom, bottom to top, and out from the middle. The character of each drawing—darker, lighter, bolder, more tentative—reflects its position on the wall, while some have more of one color than another depending on the angle and pressure of the strokes.

Marioni is a first-generation conceptual artist and, like most of his peers, does not restrict himself to a single medium. Rather, he allows a specific idea to dictate the mode of its realization. He creates installations, videos, and performances, but from the start drawing has been fundamental to his practice. As in those made while stroking jazz drummers’ wire brushes across sandpaper, or his more recent freehand circular drawings, each of these twenty-two works is a record of a repetitive physical action—the arc of his arm, the movement of his body—the act being the primary work, and the drawing a record of it. The idea that an action or activity is the artwork characterizes Marioni’s practice in general, beginning with his The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art (1970) at the Oakland Museum, in which the debris that remained after the reception (beer bottles, cigarette butts) constituted the show.

Based in San Francisco, Marioni is largely responsible for the blossoming of conceptualism in the Bay Area, through his art and philosophy as well as by his establishment of the Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA) in 1970. MOCA provided a forum for like-minded artists to explore the then-new genres of performance and installation art.

Constance Lewallen

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