American artist Agnes Martin is one of the 20th century’s pre-eminent abstract expressionists. Rejecting the more predictable term of ‘minimalist’, Martin was adamant that her art could, and should, be a vehicle for certain concrete emotions, a tenet central to her understanding of the abstract expressionists, and central our understanding of her work. If you spend a little unhurried time with her paintings, you get a sense of what she meant.
The Tate’s retrospective, the first significant appraisal of Martin’s work since the 1990’s, explores both early works from the 1950’s along with her more distinctive later style characterised by her use of uniform canvases and horizontal bands of luminous colour divided by hand drawn lines. The paintings are incredibly engaging, at close inspection somewhat unrefined, yet stand back and the experience is both textural, quiet and serene. In reference to a series of works titled ‘The Islands’ she commented, “I wanted it to be big enough so that it was as big as the person looking at it, so that they could as though step into it,” she says of the 6ft x 6ft. “But now that I’m old — 86 — I can’t turn the 6 ft by 6ft canvas over. So I changed to 5ft by 5ft. But I paint the same.”
Agnes Martin is at Tate Modern until 11th October and then travels to Los Angeles and New York.
Matt | Projects Director & Business Development