The worst thing you can think about when you’re working is yourself”


Agnes Martin was born in 1912,  the same year as Jackson PollockThis was the year Arizona became the 48th state, the Titanic sunk, and Fenway Park opened in Boston.

Born in Saskatchewan, growing up in Vancouver, she moved to the US in 1931,  became an American citizen in 1940 and earned her B.A. in 1942 from Teachers College, Columbia University. She briefly taught art at the University of New Mexico. While there, she participated in a painting program in Taos eventually opening a studio there (which she lived in).

About this time, the legendary Betty Parson’s came into the picture. She offered her a solo show in New York but only if she moved back to New York!  With the help of artist Ellsworth Kelly, she found a loft at Coentis Slip located in the financial district of Lower Manhatten.  What a magical place this probably was –  with Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns,  and others taking up residence here.

After her promised solo show at the Parson’s Gallery, Martin seemed to find her own voice.   The London Times stated her method included:

“a square format; canvas primed with two layers of gesso; hand-drawn pencil lines; thin layers of paint, first in oils, then in acrylic which she preferred because it was much quicker to dry.”


Agnes Martin



Settling into this method, her work became critically acclaimed and also was much sought after. But, she found the New York art world  too much to handle. Since Coentis Slip was to be demolished in 1967,  Agnes Martin decided to leave the art world. She gave away most everything (including art supplies) and traveled the United States and Canada.  She did not paint for SEVEN YEARS!

Lucky for us, she began painting again in 1974. Her paintings became smaller so she could move them herself. Larger paintings would have required an assistant, something she did not want.



Agnes Martin



Let’s take a step back back to her undergraduate years at Columbia University.  She began going to lectures by Zen Buddhist scholars. What she learned at this time was reflected in her lifestyle for the remainder of the her life. She prefered to live a simple, quiet and somewhat singular life.  This is reflected in her own words:

“I often paint tranquility. If you stop thinking and rest, then a little happiness comes into your mind. At perfect rest you are comfortable.”

Often referred to as a minimalist by others, she described herself as an abstract expressionist.  In her work, she placed emphasis on the line, the grid and extremely subtle colors. They were drawn freehand and the flaws remain (she didn’t even use a ruler!).

“When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then a grid came into my mind and I thought it represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied. I thought, this is my vision.”

Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin


Agnes Martin

About this time, Martin began trying to locate her earlier work, wanting to destroy them all – in fact she wanted to burn them!  Karen Yank, a sculptor and former student, told her it was okay to have a few of the earlier works out in the world, it would give young artists that are struggling some hope.


Agnes Martin


Some of her awards include:

  • Named one of the “100 Women of Achievement by Harper’s Bazaar in 1967
  • Inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters
  • Awarded the National Medal of Arts from the NEA
  • Awarded the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Biennale

She died in her home in Taos at the age of 92.

“there are so many people who don’t know what they want. And I think that, in this world, that’s the only thing you have to know – – exactly what you want…Doing what you were born to do…That’s the way to be happy.”

“I’m an empty mind. When something comes into it, you can see it.”

“the best things in life happen to you when you’re alone”

“Art is responded to with emotion…and the best art is music – – that’s the highest form of art. It’s completely abstract, and we make about eight times as much response to music than any of the other arts.”

“Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings”

Of Rothko, he has:

“reached zero so that nothing could stand in the way of truth.”

Next up – the letter “N”!





10 thoughts on “AMAZING AGNES MARTIN

  1. Susan Michael Barrett

    So amazing.

    Your blog. And Agnes. Gosh, I like what you write about.

    Agnes Martin is a favorite artist (and author). I’m attracted to her grid and simplicity. So tender and strong. Thanks, Vicki, for this post. It made my day. I’m sharing your post.

  2. Michele Bergh

    What a great story. I love that she was encouraged to keep some of her original pieces of art out in the world to give others hope. We all evolve over time and our earlier works, whatever they may be in our life, show our growth and there is a lot of value in that.

  3. vickiemartin Post author

    thank you – glad you liked it! I agree, showing our growth is important – I feel it is important to keep works I’ve done that shows a learning curse – it may not mean anything to anybody else, but it helps me see my progress.

  4. vickiemartin Post author

    thank you – there is beauty in the simplicity. Seeing them in person is so relaxing!

  5. Deborah Weber

    Love seeing this next entry in your series Vickie. And I love that Agnes Martin found a way to create her life that honored what felt true to her. These are the true genius way-showers in my opinion, and this is what all our lives should be about. Kudos to Agnes!

  6. Melissa

    I will have to admit that I am not sure that her style of art is the same as my style of art. I can appreciate it must have taken a lot of work, even if I don’t love it. But I do strive to teach my kids about artists and I have never heard of her, so I bookmarked your page so that I can use some of this to teach my kids about her, since you give a good basic background. This week we painted birds (parrots) like Henri Rousseau, since he painted a lot of jungle scenes.

  7. Sue

    Vickie- thanks for sharing such a wonderful story about this artist. It is so interesting to read about what inspires these creators and to try to get into their heads. Love the quote ” the best things happen when you are alone”.

  8. Elda

    What a great post. My favorite line, ” If you stop thinking and rest, then a little happiness comes into your mind.”

    Simply Lovely!

  9. vickiemartin Post author

    I want to read more Murakami – I don’t pretend to understand the symbolism, but it was still fun – it is only 96 pages long!

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