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Agnes Bernice Martin (March 22, 1912, Macklin, Saskatchewan, Canada – Dec.16, 2004); American abstract painter. Often referred to as a minimalist, Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist, Her work has been defined as an "essay in discretion, inwardness and silence.
Art must derive from inspiration, Martin said, and yet for decades she painted what seems at first glance to be the same thing over and over again, the same core structure subject to infinitely subtle variations. A grid: a set of horizontal and vertical lines drawn meticulously with a ruler and pencil on canvases 6 feet high and 6 feet wide. They came, these restrained, reserved, exquisite paintings, as visions, for which she would wait sometimes for weeks on end, rocking in her chair, steadying herself for a glimpse of the minute image that she would paint next. “I paint with my back to the world,” she declared, and what she wanted to catch in her rigorous nets was not material existence, the Earth and its myriad forms, but rather the abstract glories of being: joy, beauty, innocence; happiness itself.
A late starter, Martin kept on going, working at the height of her powers right through her 80s; a stocky figure with apple cheeks and cropped silver hair, dressed in overalls and Indian shirts. She produced the last of her masterpieces a few months before her death in 2004, at the grand old age of 92. But she was also so deeply ambivalent about pride and success and the ego-driven business of making a name for yourself that in the 1960s she abandoned the art world altogether, packing up her New York studio, giving away her materials and disappearing in a pickup truck, surfacing 18 months later on a remote mesa in New Mexico.
“When I first made a grid,” Martin said, “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 so I painted it and then I was satisfied.