5 Fast Facts: Agnes Martin

 Impress your friends with five fast facts about Agnes Martin (1912–2004), whose work is on view in Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today through February 28, 2016.

Agnes Martin (1912–2004)

1. Natural Feeling

Agnes Martin started out as a descriptive artist, but she was not truly satisfied with her work until she discovered the grid. In her move to abstraction, her goal was to depict subtle emotions, such as those felt when experiencing the natural world, rather than nature itself.

2. In the Neighborhood

While living on Coenties Slip in New York City from 1957 to 1969, Martin was a neighbor of artists Lenore Tawney, Ann Wilson, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana, Jack Youngerman, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns.

3. Off the Grid

In 1967, Martin “retired” from painting. She left New York, then the center of the art world, and drove around the continent in her pickup truck and camper. When she resurfaced, she had left the grid behind, focusing instead on horizontal fields of limited color and tone.

4. Poetic License

Celebrated as a visual artist, Martin also used the written word as a form of expression. Some of her notebooks combine the two art forms, with drawings on one page and poems opposite.

5. The Bare Necessities

In 1968, Martin settled on a mesa near Cuba, New Mexico, where she constructed buildings using native logs and adobe brick. For the next three decades, she lived a reclusive, solitary existence without electricity, plumbing, or a phone.

6. Emotional Gridlock

She once told an interviewer, “When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then this 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.”

—Ashley Harris is assistant educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Precise Pathmakers

Dynamic women designers and artists from the mid-20th century and today create innovative designs, maintain craft traditions, and incorporate new aesthetics into fine art in Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, now on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Each week, compare and draw parallels between works on view in Pathmakers and NMWA collection favorites.

On view in Pathmakers

Agnes Martin, The Wall #2, 1962

The Wall #2 balances drawn grids with subtle washes of color. Martin’s signature compositions composed of measured grids are commonly associated with Minimalism, but the artist herself preferred the “Abstract Expressionist” label. The formal precision of her works belies their spiritual quality.

Agnes Martin, The Wall #2, 1962; Oil and graphite on canvas, mounted on board with nails, 10 x 10 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Agnes Martin, The Wall #2, 1962; Oil and graphite on canvas, mounted on board with nails, 10 x 10 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Who made it?

Born in Saskatchewan, Canada, Agnes Martin (b. 1912) is revered for her abstracted works. Though her paintings are based on a rational grid system, she imbued them with personal spiritual content. In 1967, Martin moved to New Mexico, where she lived in reclusion for three decades. Within that period she stopped painting for seven years. Martin stated, “The best things in life happen to you when you’re alone.” She began painting again in 1974, exhibiting a stylistic shift from pale shades to brighter hues.

How was it made?

The Wall #2 exemplifies Martin’s spare aesthetic. Although meticulously placed, the small nails securing the canvas are marginally offset from one another, and the hand-drawn lines waver slightly. Visible handwork differentiates Martin from her hard-edged Minimalist contemporaries. The nails and lines generates a sense of stability—an almost hypnotic vibration of static elements. The steady rhythm of the dot-dash pattern of The Wall #2 instills a meditative sensibility that is representative of Martin’s oeuvre.

Collection connection

Bice Lazzari, "Misure" Doppio Ritmo, 1967; Tempera and graphite on canvas, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Archivio Bice Lazzari

Bice Lazzari, “Misure” Doppio Ritmo, 1967; Tempera and graphite on canvas, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Archivio Bice Lazzari

In NMWA’s collection, “Misure” Doppio Ritmo (“Measures” Double Rhythm) (1967) by Italian modernist Bice Lazzari is also based on precise, geometric lines. Colored with swaths of red-orange tempera paint, the composition is activated by two curved lines, which dance and dive across the canvas. The background of faint lines and tight boxes give “Misure” Doppio Ritmo an almost-reptilian surface texture. Lazzari was often inspired by decorative arts and musical notes. Like Martin’s work, Lazzari’s painting has a hand-drawn quality.

Visit the museum and explore Pathmakers, on view through February 28, 2016.

—Sarah Mathiesen is the publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: August 7, 2015

“To me, they are art world royalty,” said a Whitney Museum curator about the famous feminist art collective.

The Guerrilla Girls posted a video of themselves celebrating their 30th year. Several members, including those with the pseudonyms “Frida Kahlo” and “Käthe Kollwitz,” talk to The New York Times about the continuing gender inequities in the art world.

The New York Times charts the Guerrilla Girls’ evolution. After three decades, their mission for equality is far from over. The group first collaborated in 1985 in response to a MoMA exhibition featuring 165 artists—less than ten percent of whom were women.

Joyce Kozloff recaps her meeting with Georgia O’Keeffe in the artist’s home in 1972.

Artnews visits sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard in her Brooklyn studio.

Hyperallergic finds only five public statues of historical women in New York City.

In honor of the Tate Modern retrospective of Agnes Martin, Artnews posts a throwback article about the artist’s minimalist grid paintings.

A new anti-street harassment mural is unveiled outside a Brooklyn grocery store.

The New Yorker article “A Ghost in the Family” shares how artists Clare Rojas and Barry McGee formed a family around McGee’s daughter by his first wife, artist Margaret Kilgallen, after Kilgallen’s tragic death.

Artist Maxine Helfman’s “Historical Correction” series re-creates old Flemish portraits by replacing the posed subjects with men and women of color.

A new study says women make up 60% of museum staffs, but minorities only account for 28% of positions.

“Word to The Woman”—Solange Knowles’s newest collaboration with Puma—features 14 innovative women from different backgrounds.

Artnet celebrates artist Hedda Sterne’s birthday with six of her most famous quotes.

The Independent analyzes the role and prevalence of female comics in Hollywood.

Here She Comes Now: Women in Music Who Have Changed Our Lives features essays by 22 writers, most of them women.

The Guardian reviews five female-friendly comic book film adaptations.

Covered in Ink surveys numerous ways women in [tattoo] culture are marginalized.”

The Guardian posts an obituary for film noir star Coleen Gray.

Shows We Want to See

Curators Day + Gluckman features 24 women artists that provide “a snapshot of the evolving conversations that continue to contribute to the mapping of a women’s place in British society.”

One of the newest contemporary art galleries in Los Angeles exhibits works by eight women artists.

Swedish artist Hannah Liden’s bagel sculptures are installed at three New York locations.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.