She once wrote:
“In my best moments I think ‘Life has passed me by’ and I am content.”
The outside world didn’t clutter Agnes Martin’s mind. When she died at ninety-two it was said that she hadn’t read a newspaper for fifty years - her vision was focussed solely on her art.
“To progress in life you must give up the things you do not like. Give up doing the things that you do not like to do. You must find the things that you do like. The things that are acceptable to your mind.”
Giving up the things you do not like is always easier when your life is insulated by money, but that kind of insulation didn’t come until Martin was in her late forties. Born in Maklin, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1912, her father died when she was two, leaving her mother with five children to bring up. In such difficult circumstances, Agnes didn’t have the opportunity to develop her artistic interests, but she was fully aware of the beauty that surrounded her, which inspired her belief she had the talent to paint it.
When she was twenty-four, Agnes traveled to New York, where her visits to the museums and galleries convinced her to be an artist. It took time, for twenty years Martin worked as a teacher, painted every day and burnt her pictures every night, until she was ready. She moved to New Mexico, where food and rent were cheap. Her decision was to paint until her savings ran out, then to starve. She was lucky, the legendary art dealer, Betty Parsons, whose gallery had been the focus for the Abstract Expressionist movement, saw her work in New Mexico in 1957. It led to Martin’s first major show in 1958. It was the start of her successful career that lasted until her death in 2004.
Martin’s work was spiritual and she once described her paintings as being “not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind.”
“When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection.”
This rare interview with Agnes Martin was recorded at her studio in Taos, New Mexico, by Chuck Smith and Sono Kuwayama, in November 1997, and is quite a revealing and inspirational film.
With thanks to Surbhi Goel
Posted by Paul Gallagher |