A new month and a new artist! I'm super excited (and also a little nervous) about this month. I studied Agnes Martin a little bit last year, just enough to pique my interest. I'm a little nervous because she worked entirely abstract and I think I'm going to have trouble creating my own work based hers. But there's only one way to find out!
Agnes Bernice Martin was born on March 22, 1912 in the town of Macklin in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
These are my resources for this month: Agnes Martin by Briony Fer, Agnes Martin and Me by Donald Woodman, and Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art by Nancy Princethal. I like to have a biography and a survey type book for each artist; and this month I have an extra--a memoir by a friend of Agnes'.
Agnes Martin's father, Malcolm Martin, was "gone" by the time Agnes was three years old. Some accounts say he died; others that he skipped town. What complicates the story even further is that records show he made his wife his legal representative in 1910 (that would be before Agnes was born) and that he transferred ownership of his property over to her sometime in 1914.
The appearance of Margaret Martin's name on these records is highly unusual. Women had few legal rights, no vote, and inheritance usually went to the closest male relative. Whatever the particulars, Margaret Martin was left to raise four children alone, the fourth born just after he left.
Agnes had a difficult relationship with her mother. She said her mother "didn't like children, and she hated me ... She couldn't bear to look at me, to speak to me––she never spoke to me." But Agnes also described her mother as "a tremendous disciplinarian." "I have great respect for my mother." And "she had a strong sense of duty, and of justice."
When Agnes was about six, she had to have her tonsils removed. Her mother put her on a streetcar with instructions about where to get off for the hospital. No one had told her that the operation meant staying overnight. The next morning she was sent home on the streetcar.
By 1917 the Martin family was living in Lumsden, where Margaret's father, (Agnes' grandfather) Robert Kinnion lived. After Lumsden, the Martin family lived in Calgary and then moved to Vancouver, along with Agnes' grandfather.
Robert Kinnion was a religious man who introduced Agnes to the Bible and to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Promise. Agnes said that she did a lot of drawing and she recalled several times she saved pocket money to buy postcard sized prints of famous paintings. Then she would copy them. The first print which made a strong impression was Jean-Francois Millet's The Angelus.
Agnes was a highly successful athlete and loved being in the water. In 1928 she qualified for the Canadian Olympic swimming team. She left Canada in 1931 for Bellingham, Washington to care for her sister, who was pregnant.
For some time she was going back and forth between Vancouver and Bellingham, swimming in Canada, and attending school in the U.S. She placed fourth in the women's 440 yard freestyle at the Olympic trials in 1932.
In 1933 Agnes Martin graduated high school in Bellingham and enrolled at Washington State Normal School, a teachers collge, which she attended for three years. She then taught first through sixth grades at various schools in rural Washington, often one room schoolhouses.
In other news....I'll be speaking tonight at Park Central Library (6:00) about my work and creativity. And this weekend I'll have a booth at Artsfest. Drop by and say hi!