One of Marcus’s innovations is the way she divides the space inhabited by her subjects. In “Family II (1970), her daughters sit on a white wicker love seat in a pristine white room, where an arched entry looms to their right. Their father, dressed in a blue and white robe, stands to the right of the archway, partially blocking it. In the gray space defined by the archway, we see a woman in the mid-ground, in red robe. Behind her and framing her form, a window opens on a sand embankment and clumps of dune grass. While the three figures in the foreground are presented frontally, the woman is depicted in profile, her head turned towards the viewer, aware that someone is looking.
On one hand, Marcus’s painting is deadpan, with large areas of flat color. Spatially, however, the placement, size, and separation of the figures invite viewers to supply a narrative. Whatever emotions and ideas are bubbling beneath the painting’s cool, calm surface, the tension we feel is arrived at formally. In fact, the only portrait that shows a family existing in the same unified space, forming a single unit, is “Yyna, Alvin, and Baby” (1970/71), depicting an African American family she knew from the summers she spent in Provincetown, Massachusetts, painting in a dune shack.
...Look at the understated attention she pays to cloth, pattern, and surfaces (shoes), or at the spatial complexity she achieves in “Double Portrait” (1962), “Frieze: The Porch” (1964), and “Family II” (1970) and you will be left with no doubt in your mind about how good she really is.
familyfemale artistacrylic and gold leaf on canvas