Agnes Martin was an American abstract painter. Often referred to as a minimalist, but Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist. She became a key figure in the male-dominated New York abstraction scene in the 1950’s and 60’s. However, she chose to leave New York as she was gaining acclaim, in search of solitude and silence. Martin believed that spiritual inspiration and not intellect created great work. ‘Without awareness of beauty, innocence and happiness one cannot make works of art’. After almost two years of traveling she settled in New Mexico.
Martin’s works have a ‘kind of fragility: the tough fragility of an egg shell. Although they are always made within the strictest constraint of the symmetrical squaired grid, or with even simpler devises of regularity speed parallels of lines or short dashes, they even achieve a marvellous singularity; each is as unique as a moment…’
Gooding, M. (2008). Abstract art. 1st ed. London: Tate.
Martin became known for he square canvasses, meticulously rendered grids and repeat stripes. Martin thought of her works as studies in the pursuit of perfection.
‘When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not just in the eye. It is in the mind. It is our positive response to life.’ – Agnes Martin
I see great beauty in the perfect simplicity of Martin’s works. The precision and delicacy work together to create a very pure form of pattern. I imagine her works would look vastly different from a distance, compared to up close. This ideas intrigues me greatly.
Grids play a prominent part in Martins work, it is rigid and uniform, therefore the perfect simple for ‘perfection’. English art critic Lawrence Alloway found Matins grids…
“half-way between a rectangular system of coordinates and a vail… Martin’s seamless surface signifies, for all its linear precision, an image dissolving. The uninflected radiant fields are without the formal priorities of figure and field or hierarchic ranking of forms, and the skinny grids are set in monochrome colours that make visible the shifting gradients of real light across the painting. The effect is of precision and elusiveness at once.” (pp.94-95)
Strickland, E. (1993). Minimalism:Origins. American University Press.
” ‘I had to leave out a lot of things that one expects to see in a painting’, Martin has said of this work. ‘I was painting about happiness and bliss and they are very simple states of mind I guess. Morning is a wonderful dawn, soft and fresh.’ She began making delicate hand-drawn grids in 1960. This painting is based on a rectangular system of co-ordinates, but the total effect is like an atmospheric veil.” (Tate Gallery label, September 2004)
‘Friendship’ 1963 – Incised gold leaf and gesso on canvas. Martin has hand-scored into the shimmering plane of gold creating a unique delicacy.
Untitled 1965 – Watercolour, ink and gouache on paper
The repetitive lines and square form of these works remind me of my final pieces from last year. I focused on the lines/creases made by scrunching paper. I scrunched 100 pieces of paper, and drew over one of the creases which crossed the paper from top to bottom. Then transferred and enlarged those lines, layering them to create another drawing showing the relationship between random creases. The scrunching was a way from me to separate myself from the drawing process.