#throwback: Agnes Martin

Major throwback to the first week of Foundation 2D.

This was a group research that Caroline and I did during the first lesson of 2D. We chose and was assigned one of the many artists — Agnes Martin. This research is a hand-me-down information from the slides that we did. (So basically I’m just transferring the information here.)

Agnes Martin (1912 - 2004)
“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 (1912 – 2004)

Martin was known as an American abstract painter, referred as a minimalist but considered herself an abstract expressionist. She turned to art around the age of 30, when she was a student at Columbia University in New York.

One of Martin's art piece
One of Martin’s art piece


So when I typed “Agnes Martin artworks” at Google search, I was perplexed, surprised and couldn’t really believe what I was looking at! The picture above is one of the many artworks of Martin’s. Look at how simple her artworks are — geometrical shape, and just lines by pen and a ruler. At that point of time I was thinking to myself “WHAT? That means if I were to just draw a single line in pencil and tell people ‘This is my art piece’, I would be famous too?”

HA HA HA (Dream on Ummi)

That was definitely a complete puzzle to me and that was the first impression of Martin’s artworks. She has this signature style of hers where she uses squared monochrome canvas, layered with gesso, overlaid with hand-drawn pencil lines and thin layers of oil or acrylic paint.

(More examples of her pencil-ed lines below…)

Agnes_Martin_Hiram_Butler_Gallery_a securedownload-2


Let me share Martin’s techniques used in her artworks. Firstly, pencil lines. As you can see from the above examples, you can tell that she is a mechanical person. She actually has hand-drawn horizontal, vertical or in grid formations across gesso canvas. She stretched string across the canvas and uses ruler to draw. Then, her line spacing was mathematically worked out on paper, then painted between to form solid bands.

Secondly, colour range in her artworks. Martin mainly uses the primary colours of red, blue and yellow, and of course the most basic colour of black and white. She customizes the colours by thinning, mixing, lightening and darkening them. Furthermore, with these colours, she actually creates ghostly effect of the colours by bleaching them out. That is why her coloured artworks has those neutral, gentle yet faded colours.

1974, Martin’s artworks eventually moved out from the ‘monochrome zone’ and became more human and involving by replacing neutral tones to brighter colours.

In general, Martin’s inspiration are mostly from nature and emotions. She always somehow connects her artworks with her emotions deep inside. Therefore, if you were to re-read the quote at the top of this post, you could see how much she would relate nature with emotions and then transferring those characters onto her canvas.

So what do I think of Agnes Martin?

Personally, I like simple stuff. I was impressed that her just a few lines could actually mean something so deep. I actually have this motto of “Less is More”, and I think Martin portrays that as well.

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