Agnes Martin's work is by itself silent. In a way that helped me to feel silent in front of it (even though it was pretty crowded). Her work is one of that kind that is impossible to learn about through a picture in a book. In the past I would have been had a hard time trying to relate to work like this; two squares painted in a canvas? Seriously? But when you are in front of the pieces, and after seeing a lot of other works of art, it is impossible to ignore how exquisite the surface is, how much awareness of the material she has and how she is playing with the subtlety of composition and color relationships. These are the first elements that could make you fall in love with Agnes Martin's work. However, the richness of her work goes beyond the formal aspects.
By seeing several pieces (yes, the show was huge!) you can tell that there is a special energy contained in her work. You can feel how she treats the canvases with peace, love and dedication. Actually, as my boyfriend pointed out to me, it feels kind of awkward to have so much work to see in just one show because hers is the kind of work that invites you to stay, look, contemplate. It is mysterious and demands from us to unveil it slowly. To me, this happens because of the very nature of the work. As it is known, Agnes Martin was into meditation and a lot of her pieces are obviously a product of an exersice of repetition and pattern making as a spiritual practice of self knowledge (she really believed that the purpose of life is to know yourself). Although, it really striked me how her pieces really become a remnant of the process that evidence the nature of painting itself. Martin decided to focus on this very nature of painting and own it. Later, in an act of generosity, she shares a glympse of it with us through her work.
To me, as an artist, this is important not just because I love painting but because it is obvious that her understanding of the work is intimately related to her understanding of life. As the curator Tracey Bashkoff states in the show itself:
"In 1967, as interest in her work was growing, Martin stopped painting and left New York. In interviews over the years, she gave a number of explanations for her abrupt departure. Most ofter she referred to the imminent destruction of the building in which she lived and worked. Other people have suggested that she left because of the death of artist Ad Reinhardt, a close and respected friend, or to escape the corrupting sense of pride caused by the recognition and adulation her work was receiving."
Agnes Martin started to work again after 4 years of traveling through the US and Canada when she was resetteling in New Mexico.
Whatever choices we make in our life are going to inform our work and viceversa, and what we decide to leave as a remnant it is going to be part of the world. Agnes Martin paintings and drawing invite us to connect with ourselves, with our lives, but she just gives us a hint, a word of inspiration. To me, what Agnes Martin shares with us is both: generosity and mystery.
I hope you get to see her work now or in the future! Let me know what do you think :)