Who ART You? 26
May I introduce you to Agnes Martin.
Who ART You?
Agnes Bernice Martin was born in 1912 to Scottish Presbyterian farmers in Macklin, Saskatchewan, one of four children.From 1919, she grew up in Vancouver and moved to the United States in 1931 to help her pregnant sister, Mirabell, in Bellingham, Washington. She preferred American higher education and became an American citizen in 1950. Martin studied at Western Washington University College of Education, Bellingham, Washington, prior to receiving her B.A. (1942) from Teachers College, Columbia University. In 1947 she attended the Summer Field School of the University of New Mexico in Taos, New Mexico. 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). She moved to New York City in 1957 and lived in a loft in Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan. She left New York City in 1967, disappearing from the art world to live alone. After eighteen months on the road, Martin settled in New Mexico. She built an adobe home for herself in two locations there. She lived alone all her adult life. In 1993 she moved to a retirement residence in Taos, New Mexico, where she lived until her death in 2004.
She was publicly known to have schizophrenia, once opting for electric shock therapy for treatment.
Many of her paintings bear positive names such as Happy Holiday (1999) and I Love the Whole World (2000). In an interview in 1989, discussing her life and her painting, Agnes Martin said, "Beauty and perfection are the same. They never occur without happiness."
A pioneer of her time, Agnes Martin never publicly expressed her sexuality, but has been described as a 'closeted homosexual' .The 2018 biography Agnes Martin: Pioneer, Painter, Icon uncovers several romantic relationships between Martin and other women, including the dealer Betty Parsons. She often employed an intersectional feminist lens when she critiqued fellow artists' work. Jaleh Mansoor, an art historian, states that Martin was "too engaged in a feminist relation to practice, perhaps, to objectify and label it as such".
Her work is most closely associated with Taos, with some of her early work visibly inspired by the desert environment of New Mexico. She moved to New York City at the invitation of the artist/gallery owner Betty Parsons in 1957 (the women had met prior to 1954). That year, she settled in Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan, where her friends and neighbors, actively promoted Martin's work, and helped install Martin's exhibitions at Betty Parsons Gallery beginning in the late 1950s. In 1967, Martin famously abandoned her life in New York. Cited reasons include the death of her friend Ad Reinhardt the demolition of many buildings on Coenties Slip, and a breakup with the artist Chryssa whom Martin had dated off and on throughout the 1960s. In her ten years living in New York Martin was frequently hospitalised to control symptoms of schizophrenia which manifested in the artist in a number of ways, including aural hallucinations and states of catatonia: on a number of occasions she received electroconvulsive therapy. After Martin left New York, she drove about the western US and Canada, deciding to settle in. She did not return to art until 1973 and consciously distanced herself from the social life and social events that brought other artists into the public eye. She collaborated with architect Bill Katz in 1974 on a log cabin she would use as her studio. That same year, she completed a group of new paintings and from 1975 they were exhibited regularly.
In 1976 she made her first film, Gabriel, a 78-minute landscape film which features a little boy going for a walk. A second movie, Captivity, was never completed after the artist threw the rough cut into the town dump.
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 went 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 not to have read a newspaper for the last 50 years. Essays in the book dedicated to the exhibition of her work in New York at The Drawing Center (traveling to other museums as well) in 2005 – 3x abstraction – analyzed the spiritual dimension in Martin's work. The 2018 biography Agnes Martin: Pioneer, Painter, Icon was the first book to explore Martin's relationship with women and her early life in substantial detail and was written in collaboration with Martin's family and friends.
In addition to a couple of self-portraits and a few watercolor landscapes, Martin's early works included 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 Mark 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 was 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 reflected 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 her career, and left New York in 1967, Trumpet, marked a departure in that the single rectangle evolved into an overall grid of rectangles. In this painting the rectangles were 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 × 72 square paintings to 60 × 60 inches and shifted her work to use bands of ethereal color. Another departure was a modification, if not a refinement, of the grid structure, which Martin has used since the late 1950s. In Untitled No. 4 (1994), for example, one viewed the gentle striations of pencil line and primary color washes of diluted acrylic paint blended with gesso. The lines, which encompassed this painting, were 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.
Martin became an inspiration to younger artists.
In 1994, the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, part of the University of New Mexico, announced that it would renovate its Pueblo-revival building and dedicate one wing to Martin's work. The gallery was designed according to the artist's wishes in order to accommodate Martin's gift of seven large untitled paintings made between 1993 and 1994. An Albuquerque architectural firm, Kells & Craig, designed the octagonal gallery with an oculus installed overhead, and four yellow Donald Judd benches placed directly under the oculus.
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