Canadian-American artist Agnes Martin is best known for geometric paintings based on grid patterns. Like many of the abstract expressionists with whom her work is associated, Martin rejected figurative images in attempting to portray her state of mind. In 1967, just as her artistic career was peaking, Martin stopped painting and over the next seven years built herself a house in New Mexico and devoted much of her time to writing and lecturing. This 1989 profile from Current Biography recounts her life and long career and explores her unconventional artistic style.
Profile of Agnes Martin.
Although the painter Agnes Martin deliberately moved from New York City to a small town in New Mexico more than twenty years ago, she has retained her almost legendary status as one of the important post-painterly abstract expressionists. "I don't believe in the promotion of art," she once declared. "I believe in its discovery." Half a continent away from the reputation-making center of the American art world and in her late seventies, she has continued to arouse critical interest, for she is one of those artists whose work transcends stylistic labeling yet is always somehow in style.
Over the course of her long career, Miss Martin's name has become synonymous with grid paintings, and her infinite variations on a schema consisting of the interplay of horizontal and vertical lines have been recognized as presaging a number of postmodern art movements, including hard-edge painting, op art, conceptualism, and especially minimalism. But as the poet and critic John Ashbery has pointed out, Agnes Martin's "minimalism" is not merely reductive; it is the result of a slow, thoughtful distillation. Never purely mechanical (as the grid form would suggest) or impersonal, it is her form of expressionist painting. Although in her works she has seemed to be seeking the classical ideal of perfection in pure geometry, she has often asserted, in essays and in interviews, that she does not paint "scientific discoveries or philosophies" but what she has called "the holiday state of mind.