Agnes Martin suggested we approach her paintings ‘as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean.’ Quoted here.

Above called Gratitude, 2001, seen here, for eg.

Good advice, I think. But just as nice empty beaches are hard to come by, few of us will ever get to be in the presence of one of her pictures all by ourselves. She is by some accounts the most highly regarded artist ever born in Canada.

She came from Saskatchewan, born in Macklin (pop 1300) in 1912 , and grew up in Vancouver, my home town. She moved to the US in the early 1930’s. She taught school in Washington, Delaware, and New Mexico ( she received an M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York). She had her first solo show in 1958 at the age of 46. In New York.

Above from 1961 and 1960.

Agnes Martin from Macklin stayed in Manhattan until 1967, when she headed west (in a blue pick-up, apparently) and settled in New Mexico, a place called Cuba. She later moved to Taos, where she lived until her death in 2004.

Above from 2003.

Above is very very beautiful, and I don’t know where or when it was made. Maybe that’s the point.

Above are prints 1998. Agnes has work in many collections, such as MOMA, DIA Beacon, Menil in Houston, SFMOMA, etc etc. There’s a gallery with her name in Taos.

This is graphite. GRAPHITE! Pencil! Can you imagine?

Agnes in her studio (top) and below with a clear mind, waiting to start.

You really have to see her work in person. Cross the beach, look at the ocean

Show at the DIA centre

Until you have that chance, there are a few good books. Mostly Yale University Press. Try the library. some of these cost a lot.

You could also watch the documentary made about Agnes by Mary Lance. It is called With My Back to the World. 2002, 57 minutes, Info here


There is a video on YouTube. Agnes talking about what she does. She is eloquent and wise and sweet and smart, but I have the feeling she’d rather not talk about it.

At auction, Agnes Martin’s work has brought as much as $4.7 million. That’s a lot, but then what does an ocean cost?

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