Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Painter Agnes Martin

Now I paint with my back to the world.
It took me 20 years to paint completely nonobjective, 
not above this world.
~ Agnes Martin

The abstract painter Agnes Martin was born in Canada in 1912 and became a citizen of the United States around 1950. She had her first solo exhibition in 1958, at New York City's Betty Parsons Gallery, and then in the late 1960s stopped painting for seven years. She picked up her brushes again and returned to her canvas in 1974. In 1976, she produced a film, Gabriel.* Martin was inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1989 and was the subject in 1991 of a retrospective exhibition organized by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; a second retrospective exhibition, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, followed in 1992. She was honored in 1997 at the Venice Biennale. Martin, who lived in New Mexico for many years, died in 2004, age 92.

My paintings are not about what is seen. 
They are about what is known forever in the mind.

I've provided below links to images of some of Martin's work. It's work to which I've always been drawn, because it is so subtle and highly reduced, its hand-drawn graphite vertical and horizontal lines elegantly precise (though not perfect) and almost imperceptible. The last time I saw an exhibition of Martin's work, at the Dia:Beacon, in Beacon, New York, I spent a long time just looking, thinking how intimate her paintings become when you sit quietly with them — you have to get close to try to see what's in them; also how contemplative, even moving they can be. While her work may not be to everyone's taste, I think it's gorgeous and deeply serene. It's as if she gathered up the brilliant light and colors of New Mexico and washed and rewashed them, over and over, until they've begun to disappear because whatever she might have come up with could never compete with what God created.

Martin spoke thoughtfully and expressively about herself (especially about how she trained herself to stop thinking) and her work. Immediately below is a wonderful 20-minute interview with the painter, conducted by Chuck Smith and Sono Kuwayama in November 1997 at Martin's Taos studio. 

I don't have any ideas myself. I have a vacant mind...
in order to do exactly what the inspiration calls for.
And I don't start to paint until after I have the inspiration.
And after I have it, I make up my mind
 that I'm not going to interfere.

Agnes Martin Interview (20:00 version, 1997) from Chuck Smith on Vimeo.


* The 16-mm film, transferred to DVD, was screened in June of this year at Lucy Cavendish College in the United Kingdom, in conjunction with an exhibition of Martin's work at Kettle's Yard Gallery in Cambridge. The film is described as the story of "a boy's relationship to nature and abstraction on a mountain odyssey". The show at Kettle's Yard, installation photos of which can be seen here on FaceBook (Martin's work does not reproduce well, I think), comprised work from Martin's later years and included 10 canvases painted in New Mexico between 1991 and 2002.

Images of Agnes Martin's Work at Zwirner & Wirth, New York City (2003 Exhibition)

Images of Agnes Martin's Work in 01 Magazine Blog, February 14, 2010

Agnes Martin at Dia

Artist Profile at Nancy Doyle Fine Art

Artist Profile at Ask ART: The Artists' Bluebook

Mary Lance's Film Agnes Martin: With My Back to the World, 2002 (A brief Q&A with the producer-director of the documentary, which took four years to make (1998-2002), is here.)

Following is a compilation of books and catalogues, many of which are available only through resellers:

Agnes Martin, Recent Paintings 2000, Pace Gallery, 2000

Agnes Martin, Writings, Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2005 

Agnes Martin and Heinz Liesbrock, Agnes Martin: The Islands, Richter Verlag, 2005

Agnes Martin, Edward Hirsch, and Ned Rifkin, Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2002 

Agnes Martin et al., The Perception of the Horizontal, Walther Konig, 2006

Agnes Martin et al., Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated), Guggenheim Museum, 2004

Rhea Anastas et al., Agnes Martin, Yale University Press, 2010

Barbara Haskell, Anna C. Chave, and Rosalind Krauss, Agnes Martin, Whitney Museum of Art, 1992

Timothy Robert Rodgers, In Pursuit of Perfection: The Art of Agnes Martin, Maria Martinez, and Florence Pierce, Museum of New Mexico Press, 2005

Agnes Martin Videos 

Among many articles about Martin online are these: Ben La Rocco, "Agnes Martin, Peter Blum Gallery", Review in The Brooklyn Rail, March 2008; Holland Cotter, "A Series of Lines in Pencil, Leading to a Realm of Joy",  Review in The New York Times, August 25, 2006; and Holland Cotter's Obituary for Agnes Martin in The New York Times, December 17, 2004.


M.L. Gallagher said...

Everytime I come to visit you here, I wish I had more time to spend delving through the treasures you offer.

This one is really rich -- and what a zen way of painting. It's why I dance -- to not think.

Rob Jones said...

Agnes is one of my all time favorites. Thanks for sharing this post.

Anonymous said...

it's "not about this world" - not "above the world". She did however talk about living "above the line", meaning concentrating on positive feelings, and comfort, vs. dwelling "below the line, in depression or that kind of thing, which is just endless negativity."