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White Gray Black

Agnes Martin (American, born Canada. 1912–2004)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American painter of Canadian birth. She grew up in Vancouver and moved to the USA in 1932, taking American citizenship in 1940. She began making art in the early 1940s, while living in New York, where she studied at Columbia University (1941–2, 1951–2) and intermittently in New Mexico, where she studied briefly at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque (1946–7), also teaching painting there from 1947 to 1948. She returned to New York in 1957, living in Coenties Slip, two blocks of artists’ lofts near South Ferry, where she met other painters such as Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Youngerman (b 1926), Robert Indiana and James Rosenquist while basically living a reclusive life.

Martin held her first one-woman exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York in 1958. She constructed her paintings on a rational grid system, superimposing a network of pencilled lines and later coloured bands on fine-grained canvas stained with washes of colour in such a way as to reconcile these apparently antithetical elements. Often the impression is conveyed that the colour is floating off the canvas, with the delicately drawn pencil marks hovering within the edges of the canvas but not quite touching them, as in White Flower (1960; New York, Guggenheim) or Morning (1965; London, Tate). These paintings were influential on the development of Minimalism in the USA, especially on the wall drawings executed in coloured pencils by Sol LeWitt, although Martin regarded her use of grids as a development from the ‘all-over’ compositional methods of Abstract Expressionism. She persistently rejected the suggestion that her paintings were conceived in response to the landscape of New Mexico, where she settled again in 1967 and where she chose to work most of her life.

From 1967 Martin concentrated on writing, but when she returned to painting in 1974 she continued refining the idiom that she had established in the early 1960s, favouring geometric structures of uniform bands of evanescent colour in works such as Untitled Number 3 (1974; New York, Pace Gal.; see 1977 exh. cat., p. 16). Her convictions about the emotive content of her work, underlying its apparent reticence and austerity of form, were cogently expressed in a lecture, ‘We Are in the Midst of Reality Responding with Joy’, delivered at Yale University, New Haven, CT, in 1976 (printed in full in 1977 exh. cat., pp. 17–39).

Klaus Ottmann
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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