The little known Canadian artist Agnes Martin intrigues and fascinates me. When you see her at work, you realise how compelled she was to paint, and what a chore it was – especially later on in life. She continued to have visions whilst rocking in her rocking chair or meditating. These came to her in miniature (I have read, the size of a postage stamp), and were then scaled up into huge canvases. She destroyed anything that wasn’t quite perfect. Yet when you see the works, they appear ghost-like and hesitant as if something isn’t quite present (a lot like the work of Gwen John). It is known she suffered from some form of schizophrenia (though that is a very broad term). For many years she didn’t work. Eventually (in her fifties), she moved from arty Manhattan to remote New Mexico, and built her own house there, living in near total isolation until her death in 2004. She evidently had trouble fitting into society and there is a loneliness about her work which provokes sadness. She claimed to portray pure states of being e.g. joy, gratitude – and usually they are happy states (which she is striving for?) In ‘Friendship’ she uses incised gold leaf and gesso (very medieval materials) – friendship is like gold, and never-ending as the repetitive rectangles testify. And it contains you. There is a Minimalist quality about much of her art, yet she claimed to be more of an Abstract Expressionist as FEELING was very important to her. Personally I find her canvases very restful and contemplative. Somehow by having a melancholic element, they ‘ease the soul’.
Agnes Martin: Friendship 1963 Gratitude 2001