Agnes Martin: rectangular grids within a square format. Simple, direct, reductive. She does away with composition, focal points, value contrast and strong color.
A modest room on a New Mexican mesa, a ruler in hand, Agnes Martin relentlessly explores the grid. She draws repeating lines over the entire surface, delicate and often barely visible. She treats all areas equally, no emphasis or contrast distract the viewer from the patterns of perfection residing in the human mind.
Agnes Martin. (American, born Canada. 1912-2004). Friendship. 1963. Incised gold leaf and gesso on canvas, 6′ 3″ x 6′ 3″ (190.5 x 190.5 cm). Fractional gift of Celeste and Armand P. Bartos. © 2008 Estate of Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. http://www.moma.org
Agnes Martin blends Platonic ideals and Taoist reflections in an attempt to convey the innocence of an untroubled state of mind: “My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind.”
I am fascinated by the consistency between her art and her life. After some ten years immersed in the New York art scene, just at the point were she was tasting success, she took off and stopped painting. She spent some time wandering around the country in a pick-up truck with a camper until she settled on an isolated mesa in New Mexico and proceeded to build herself an adobe house. By hand, brick by brick, another way to explore the grid. She also wrote. After a seven year hiatus, she went back to her art practice and worked everyday in her New Mexican studio for the rest of her life. Living alone, in spare physical surroundings, with minimal distractions, the better to devote herself to her art. “I suggest to artists,” she wrote, “that you take every opportunity of being alone.”
Agnes Martin. (American, born Canada. 1912-2004). The Tree. 1964. Oil and pencil on canvas, 6 x 6′ (182.8 x 182.8 cm). Larry Aldrich Foundation Fund. © 2008 Estate of Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. http://www.moma.org
In spite of her chosen isolation, Agnes Martin became one of the leading contemporary artists in 20th-century America. She is often considered an early minimalist but she preferred to identify with the abstract expressionism of her generation. The strong spiritual component of her vision as well as her tendency to cover the surface of the canvas edge to edge are indeed closely related to abstract expressionists concerns.
A few links to explore Agnes Martin’s work further: