Inspiring women: Agnes Martin

I was so happy to see Saturday's Google doodle was for Canadian-American artist Agnes Martin. Born in 1912 in Saskatchewan and raised in Vancouver, Martin moved to the U.S. for university and studied with the Zen Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki at Columbia. She famously claimed to have painted "with her back to the world". When she died at age 92, she was said not to have read a newspaper for the last 50 years.

Martin was based in New York in the early part of her career, running with Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt, among others. In 1966, her work was included in the exhibition Systemic Painting at the Solomon R. Guggenheim as representative of the Minimalist art current in New York. Her works were distinguished by square formats, grids, lines drawn on canvas, and monochromatic colour with subtle variations in hue.

Following Ad Reinhardt's death and the condemning of many of her group's studios to demolition, Martin relocated to New Mexico and quit painting for a many years, distancing herself from society. However, she returned to painting in 1975 and produced a number of works in which she replaced her characteristic neutral tones with brighter colour.

"When Martin stopped painting in 1967, Glimcher [Pace Gallery founder] says, “she brought her canvases and brushes to Fred and me, and said, ‘You know a lot of young artists. Just give them away.’” During this period, Martin, who suffered from psychotic episodes throughout her life, lived in a house on a mesa in Cuba, New Mexico. The rivers around the mesa would sometimes swell with rain, and there was no way out. “She would be stuck there months at a time, and that’s what she wanted,” Glimcher says. When she took up painting again, in 1975, she produced “exuberant works in blue and pink,” he adds. “It’s like the grids opened up and this is what was behind them. Probably being back in New Mexico, away from people, suddenly gave her a level of security again.” - Artnews

In an essay accompanying the catalog for a 1992 Agnes Martin retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Barbara Haskell, wrote:

"For Agnes Martin, perfection is neither otherworldly – something separate from and transcending the temporal process – nor is it a holiness that inhabits physical matter. It is the intensity of absolute beauty and happiness experienced when our minds are empty of ego and the distractions of the everyday world. In these flashes, worries dissolve and we feel enormous exultation and peace, not unlike the state of grace in Christian theology. However elusive and fleeting these experiences are, they are nevertheless available at every moment to everyone. The task, as Martin defines it, is to further our potential to see perfection within life." - The Christian Science Monitor

"There are so many people who don’t know what they want. And I think that, in this world, that’s the only thing you have to know — exactly what you want…  Doing what you were born to do… That’s the way to be happy." - Agnes Martin

More reading:
- Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances by Arne Glimcher
- Agnes Martin by Barbara Haskell

1. Agnes Martin, portrait by Charles R. Rushton
2. Mountain,, 1960 by Agnes Martin, via MoMA
3. Untitled, 1977 by Agnes Martin, via The Guggenheim
4. Untitled, 1977 by Agnes Martin, via The Guggenheim
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