The first time I saw a painting by Agnes Martin (or at least it was the first time I paid attention) was at the Dia:Beacon in 2007. The quotation on the wall appealed to me then and has ever since:
I want to draw a certain response. . . . Not a specific response but that quality of response from people when they leave themselves behind, often experienced in nature—an experience of simple joy. . . . the simple, direct going into a field of vision as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean.
It was at about the same time that I became aware of a film about Agnes Martin, “With My Back to the World,” so when I came across a photograph of Agnes Martin with her back to the camera, I wanted to do something with it.
Agnes Martin once wrote
I want to repeat: there are no valid thoughts about art. If your sensibilities are awake you will respond. It will be a pleasant experience recalling happy times. You must see that no talking will help and that no defence is necessary and that you must not answer your critics. But most important you must have no contact with them. [Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art, by Nancy Princenthal, p.261]
In 1997, however, she did have a conversation by telephone with New York Times art critic Holland Cotter. In the mornings, she told him, she works in her studio. After lunch, she reads at her home. “I don’t read nonfiction because it sticks in the mind. I have to keep my mind free for painting. I read mystery stories. In one ear and out the other.” [Princenthal, p. 238]
The writer and cultural critic Jill Johnston became a friend. She wrote of her first encounter with Martin:
looking at agnes’s paintings with agnes was a quiet concentrated ceremonious ritual . . . she traversed from the point in her loft where the paintings were stashed to the spot right next to the door where she showed them . . . when she reached the showing place next to the door there would be a certain gesture of hiking the work with her foot under the canvas up into position on the nails sticking out of the wall. then she would sit down next to you and contemplate the work with you and wait. [Princenthal, p. 130]
Martin’s method for grid paintings never varied:
Two tapes would be measured off in the increments separating the lines to be drawn, and they would be attached vertically to the canvas. Then she would use a short—generally eighteen-inch–T-square ruler or other straight-edge, placed across the marked tapes, to guide her pencil or brush; on her 6-foot-square canvases a longer line would be impossible to control . . . because the pressure of the drawing tool would cause the fabric to give a little and hence cause the line to curve. [Princenthal, p. 85]
Martin’s work is said to be irreproducible in photographs, and perhaps the same can be said of the pale yellow paper I chose for the collage which, no matter how carefully I place it to catch the natural light, doesn’t have quite the luminescence I see with my own eyes.
Sibelius, Impromptus, Op. 5, No. 6 (1893) (performed by Leif Ove Andsnes)
Sibelius, 13 Pieces, Op. 76, No. 10, Elegiaco (1911-19) (performed by Oli Mustonen)