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Agnes Martin (March 22, 1912 – December 16, 2004) was a Canadian-American painter, often referred to as a minimalist; Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist.


Childhood and background

She was born in Macklin, Saskatchewan, grew up in Vancouver,[1] and moved to the United States in 1931, becoming a citizen in 1950. She studied art at Columbia University and then later at the University of New Mexico. Her work is most closely associated with Taos, New Mexico, although she moved to New York City after being discovered by the artist/gallery owner Betty Parsons in 1957. According to a filmed interview with her which was released in 2003, she moved from New York City only when she was told her rented loft/workspace/studio would be no longer available because of the building's imminent demolition. She goes on further to state that she could not conceive of working in any other space in NY and consequently left the city for other places and ended up in Taos, NM.

Artistic style

Her signature style is defined by an emphasis upon line, grids, and fields of extremely subtle color. While minimalist in form, these paintings were quite different in spirit from those of her other minimalist counterparts, retaining small flaws and unmistakable traces of the artist's hand; she shied away from intellectualism, favoring the personal and spiritual. Her paintings, statements, and influential writings often reflect an interest in Eastern philosophy, especially Taoist. Because of her work's added spiritual dimension, which became more and more dominant after 1967, she preferred to be classified as an abstract expressionist. She consciously distanced herself from the social life and social events that brought other artists into the public eye. When she died at age 92, she was said to have not read a newspaper for the last 50 years. The book dedicated to the exhibition of her work in New York at The Drawing Center in 2005—3 X Abstraction (Yale University Press)— analyzes the spiritual dimension in Martin's work.

Martin worked only in black, white, and brown before moving to New Mexico. During this time, she introduced light pastel washes to her grids, colors that shimmered in the changing light.

Cultural references

Composer John Zorn's Redbird (1995) was inspired by and dedicated to Martin.

Sister Wendy Beckett, in her book American Masterpieces, said about Martin: "Agnes Martin often speaks of joy; she sees it as the desired condition of all life. Who would disagree with her?... No-one who has seriously spent time before an Agnes Martin, letting its peace communicate itself, receiving its inexplicable and ineffable happiness, has ever been disappointed. The work awes, not just with its delicacy, but with its vigor, and this power and visual interest is something that has to be experienced."


  • Martin, Agnes, Writings, edited by Dieter Schwarz, Winterthur: Ostfildern, Cantz Verlag, 1991.
  • Krauss, Rosalind E., "Agnes Martin: The/Could/", in :Inside the Visible, edited by Catherine de Zegher, MIT Press, 1996.
  • Pollock, Griselda, "Agnes Dreaming: Dreaming Agnes", in 3 X Abstraction, edited by Catherine de Zegher and Hendel Teicher, New Haven: Yale University Press and NY: The Drawing Center, 2005. ISBN 0-300-10826-5.
  • Fer, Briony, "Drawing Drawing: Agnes Martin's Infinity", in: 3 X Abstraction, edited by Catherine de Zegher and Hendel Teicher, New Haven: Yale University Press and NY: The Drawing Center, 2005. Reprinted in Women Artists at the Millennium, edited by Carol Armstrong and Catherine de Zegher, MIT Press / October Books, 2006.


External links



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