It’s Day 44! I’m still packing and getting things organized so I life’s been pretty hectic. Tonight I have my writing group! So, I’m going to go straight to celebrating today’s artist…Agnes Martin!
Agnes Bernice Martin (March 22, 1912 – December 16, 2004) was a Canadian-American abstract painter, often referred to as a minimalist; Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist. She won a National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998.
Agnes Bernice Martin was born in Macklin, Saskatchewan, grew up in Vancouver,
and moved to the United States in 1931, becoming a citizen in 1950. Martin studied at Western Washington University College of Education, Bellingham, WA, prior to receiving her B.A. (1942) from Teachers College, Columbia University. After hearing lectures by the Zen Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki at Columbia, she became interested in Asian thought, not as a religious discipline, but as a code of ethics, a practical how-to for getting through life. A few years following graduation, Martin matriculated at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where she also taught art courses before returning to Columbia University to earn her M.A. (1952).
Her work is most closely associated with Taos, New Mexico, although she moved to New York City after being discovered by the artist/gallery owner Betty Parsons in 1957. That year, she settled in Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan, where her friends and neighbors, several of whom were also affiliated with Parsons, included Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jack Youngerman.
Barnett Newman actively promoted Martin’s work, and even helped install
Martin’s exhibitions in the late 1950s at Betty Parsons Gallery. Another close friend and mentor was Ad Reinhardt. In 1961, Martin contributed a brief introduction to a brochure for her friend Lenore Tawney’s first solo exhibition, the only occasion on which she wrote on the work of a fellow artist. In 1967, Reinhardt died and the studio at Coenties Slip was slated for demolition. After Martin left New York and moved to Cuba, New Mexico, she did not paint for seven years and consciously distanced herself from the social life and social events that brought other artists into the public eye. In 1974, she collaborated with architect Bill Katz on a log cabin she would use as her studio.
In addition to a couple of self-portraits and a few watercolor landscapes,
Martin’s early works include biomorphic paintings in subdued colors made when the artist had a grant to work in Taos between 1955 and 1957. However, she did her best to seek out and destroy paintings from the years when she was taking her first steps into abstraction.
Martin praised Rothko for having “reached zero so that nothing could stand in
the way of truth.” Following his example Martin also pared down to the most reductive elements to encourage a perception of perfection and to emphasize transcendent reality. Her signature style is defined by an emphasis upon line, grids, and fields of extremely subtle color. Particularly in her breakthrough years of the early 1960s, she created 6×6 foot square canvases that were covered in dense, minute and softly delineated graphite grids. In the 1966 exhibition Systemic Painting at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Martin’s grids were therefore celebrated as examples of Minimalist art and were hung among works by artists including Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, and Donald Judd. While minimalist in form, however, these paintings were quite different in spirit from those of her other minimalist counterparts, retaining small flaws and unmistakable traces of the artist’s hand; she shied away from intellectualism, favoring the personal and spiritual. Her paintings, statements, and influential writings often reflect an interest in Eastern philosophy, especially Taoist. Because of her work’s added spiritual dimension, which became more and more dominant after 1967, she preferred to be classified as an abstract expressionist.
Martin worked only in black, white, and brown before moving to New Mexico. The last painting before she abandoned painting and
left New York in 1967, Trumpet, marks a departure in that the single rectangle evolves into an overall grid of rectangles, here drawn in pencil over uneven
washes of gray translucent paint. In 1973, she returned to art making, and produced a portfolio of 30 serigraphs, On a Clear Day. During her time in Taos, she introduced light pastel washes to her grids, colors that shimmered in the changing light. Later, Martin reduced the scale of her signature 72 x 72 square paintings to 60 x 60 inches, and shifted her work to use bands of ethereal color. Another departure is a modification, if not a refinement, of the grid structure Martin has used since the late 1950s. In Untitled No. 4 (1994), for example, one views the gentle striations of pencil line and primary color washes of diluted acrylic paint blended with gesso; the lines are not measured by a ruler, but rather intuitively marked by the artist., In the 1990s, symmetry would often give way to varying widths of horizontal bands.
That same year, she completed a group of new paintings and since 1975 has exhibited regularly. According to a filmed interview with her which was released in 2003, she had moved
from New York City only when she was told her rented loft/workspace/studio would be no longer available because of the building’s imminent demolition. She goes on further to state that she could not conceive of working in any other space in New York. When she died at age 92, she was said to have not read a newspaper for the last 50 years. The book dedicated to the exhibition of her work in New York at The Drawing Center in 2005 – 3x abstraction (Yale University Press) – analyzes the spiritual dimension in Martin’s work.
The Agnes Martin estate is represented by Pace Gallery, New York.
Read more of her biography at wikipedia.
After staring and examining her pieces, I felt this calm wash over me. There’s something very
serene in her work. I was slightly worried about what I could paint without copying her work too closely. As I sifted through photos of her work on my phone an image popped into my mind and I immediately got to painting!
I love her Triangles painting. They look like mountains with tiny yellow snow-peaked tops. There’s something very Zen about it.
I’m not sure if my piece is exactly reminiscent of Agnes Martin, but it’s something that crept into my subconscious while studying her and I think just that captures her spirit…those subtle feelings.
I hope you enjoy my tribute to her and I will see you tomorrow on Day 45! Whew, can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can do it!