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Agnes Martin

Artist Statement


Agnes Martin, RCA (Royal Canadian Academy of Arts) was a Canadian born American abstract expressionist painter. She was born to Scottish Presbyterian farmers in Saskatchewan. At the age of 19, Agnes travelled to the United States to help her sister, Mirabell, who had just had a baby. Martin learned that she liked America’s system of higher education better than Canada’s so she stayed and became an American citizen in 1950. At that point she matriculated at State Teachers College of New York where she was exposed to modern art and started taking studio classes. Agnes attended a summer studio session in Taos and fell in love with the Southwest.

Her early work is associated with the desert environment of New Mexico as well as the Saskatchewan prairies. In addition to the landscapes and a couple of self-portraits, Martin’s work included biomorphic paintings in subdued colors. Agnes did not like her early work and eventually destroyed as many of them as she could. “Portrait of Daphne Vaughn” is one of the pieces from this early period that escaped destruction. Agnes’s later signature style, which evolved over a 20 year period, was defined by an emphasis on lines, grids and fields of extremely subtle color.

Wendy Beckett, in her book American Masterpieces, said about Martin: “Agnes Martin often speaks of joy; she sees it as the desired condition of all of life. Who would disagree with her?...No-one who has seriously spent time before an Agnes Martin, letting its peace communicate itself, receiving its inexplicable and ineffable happiness, has every been disappointed.” Agnes was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy the year of her death, 2004.