Agnes Martin 1912-2004

Agnes Martin was an American painter who was born in Macklin, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1912, and became a US citizen in 1940. Martin is perhaps most recognised for her evocative paintings marked out in subtle pencil lines and pale colour washes. Although restrained, her style was underpinned by her deep conviction in the emotive and expressive power of art. Martin believed that spiritual inspiration and not intellect created great work. ‘Without awareness of beauty, innocence and happiness’ Martin wrote ‘one cannot make works of art’.


In a career spanning five decades, Martin became known for her square canvasses, meticulously rendered grids and repeat stripes, though her lesser-known early works consist of experiments with mixed media and works on paper. Martin thought of her works as studies in the pursuit of perfection.


Martin spent many years working in New York, where she was part of a contemporary of artists such as Sol LeWitt, Ann Truitt, Donald Judd and Ad Reinhardt – with whom she was close friends. In 1967, shortly after Reinhardt died and just as Martin’s art was gaining acclaim, she left the city and continued her investigations into Buddhism and meditation. She wished to experience true solitude and used this period of quiet reflection to produce some of her most significant writing, whilst situated in sparsely populated and remote areas of the United States and Canada. In 1968 Martin resettled in New Mexico and began building an adobe and log house in a remote mesa. She lived there alone and without modern conveniences for several years. In 1973 she began creating work again.


Agnes Martin’s influence reaches globally and plays a hugely significant role in 20th Century art history. Whilst known as a pioneer of abstract painting, her work as well as her reclusive lifestyle have served as an inspiration to creative practitioners in diverse disciplines. Painters, photographers, writers – and many devotees from the words of fashion, architecture and graphic design revisit and rephrase her perspectival studies and fascination with geometry, the legacy of which can be seen in investigations into brevity of line and muted colour palettes. Artists such as Richard Tuttle, Ellen Gallagher and Roni Horn cite Martin as a central figure in their research and practice.