Today's Monday mourning is Agnes Martin. Agnes Bernice Martin was an American abstract painter. Often referred to as a minimalist, Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist. Her work has been defined as an essay in discretion, inwardness and silence.
I've been studying Agnes for a few weeks now and here's some interesting bits I've found:
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.
She moved to New York City in 1957 and lived in a loft in lower Manhattan where she worked alongside Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jack Youngerman.
She left New York City in 1967, disappearing from the art world to live alone. After eighteen months on the road, Martin settled in Cuba, New Mexico and then Galisteo, New Mexico. She built an adobe home for herself in both locations. She lived alone all her adult life.
Despite her isolation and her reputation of being reclusive once she left New York City, many of her paintings bear very positive names such as “Happy Holiday” (1999) and “I Love the Whole World” (2000). In an interview discussing her life and her painting, Agnes Martin said, "Beauty and perfection are the same. They never occur without happiness."
I find it ironic that she lived a mostly reclusive "off the grid" life on a mesa in New Mexico and yet made many paintings based on a penciled grid form. In her words, "Finally, I got the grid, and it was what I wanted. Completely abstract. Absolutely no hint of any cause in this world."
Martin worked on the 6′ by 6′ canvas because it was “the full size of the human body” — a person could step into it, could be swallowed, and absorbed.
“I would rather think of humility than anything else,” she reads from one of her published writings. While earlier, she’d said, “Lots of painters paint about painting. But my painting is about meaning.” She resisted being thought of as a mystic — “I’m not any different from anybody. You’re not a mystic when you respond to beauty.”
Agnes wanted to be buried in the garden of the Harwood Museum in Taos, near a room of paintings she had donated, but New Mexico law forbade it. So in the spring after her death, a group assembled at midnight and scaled the adobe walls with a ladder. It was a full moon, and they dug a hole under the roots of an apricot tree, placing her ashes in a Japanese bowl lined with gold leaf before scattering them in the earth. A beautiful scene, but as Martin knew, “beauty is unattached, it’s inspiration – it’s inspiration”.