I love my little time each day to have a cup of tea and read about Agnes! Here's my notes from the past week:
1957 Agnes Martin, age 45, settled at the suggestion of art dealer, Betty Parsons, in a studio community established in abandoned shipping lofts on the waterfront of lower Manhattan. Coenties Slip was home to a group of young and predominantly gay artists.
Agnes became very good friends with Ellsworth Kelly and had relationships with Lenore Tawney and Chyssa Vardea. She experimented with format and compostition and settled on the grid and the square canvas.
"When you look in your mind you find it covered with a lot of rubishy thoughts. You have to penetrate these and hear what your mind is telling you to do." When noted that she often discarded paintings, "well, inspiration doesn't always turn out because, even if the inspiration is the black corn in the bottom forty, the weather has a lot to do with it."
There is a "strong connection between Kelly and Martin in their shared reluctance to let go of the landscape–and, to a lesser extent, the cityscape–as creative touchstones, even when their paintings became fully abstract." from Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art.
I LOVE Ellsworth Kelly! I spent some time looking at his work this week.
Agnes was a very spiritual person. She meditated daily and believed in reincarnation. Silence, stillness, and void were active voices in her work.
Writer and critic Jill Johnston recalled her first aquantaince with Agnes Martin:
"I think it was 1964 when I stopped in at the Elkon Gallery and saw all these 6 by 6 foot paintings washed out whites and tans crossed by close vertical and horizontal lines muted and irregularly perfect ... a little later ... I was knocking on her door to review her most recent show for Art News ... her hair was long then and she had lots of it and when I came in it was all loose and she was busying herself putting it back up" They had tea, and then "looking at Agnes's paintings with Agnes was a quiet concentrated cermonious ritual ... she traversed from the point in her loft where the paintings were stashed to the spot right next to the door where she showed them ... when she reached the showing place next to the door there would be a certain gesture of hiking the work with her foot under the canvas up into position on the nails sticking out from the wall. Then she would sit down next to you and contemplate the work with you and wait."
Both paintings above are The Peach, 1964. Look how different it photographs when up close versus when back a few feet!
There were several reasons for Agnes' sudden exit from New York: the death of friend Ad Reinhardt, the end of her relationship with Chryssa, the loss of her loft/studio, and a "psychotic episode" of which it wasn't her first but this one severe.
"The very day that I heard they were going to tear down my loft, I also got a letter that gave me a $5000 award for painting." With this grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, she took a bus to Detroit and bought a truck with a camper.
"Trance" is the word that Agnes' friends used to describe her psychotic episodes. Robert Indiana recalls "I happened to encounter Agnes on South Street and she simply walked past me and didn't even recognize me. Shortly thereafter she was committed to Bellevue."
At Bellevue, Agnes was physically restrained, heavily sedated, and underwent shock treatments. Agnes was hospitalized previously after a episode aboard a ship and again later in Colorado and Santa Fe. Each time she was found wandering and confused, followed by amnesia and sometimes catatonia. For much of her life she heard voices. She was often paranoid and as a friend said "through the paranoia, she hurt people, cut them off, not see them for years."
However her art was not fueled by the voices or her illness. She never suggested that her work was cathartic or therapeutic. Her art was a deliberate expression of universal feelings and experiences, an expression of control, calm, and happiness.
And last one day I was researching Agnes online and I saw an image that I thought was a digital representation of one of her paintings. It turns out it wasn't. It WAS her painting. But it gave me the idea to recreate a couple of her pieces digitally and that's what these two below are. It was a good exercise in understanding just how subtle her color variations are...for instance in the one on the right, I couldn't tell the difference in those two grays until I had one on top of the other. It's also interesting composition study.