Agnes Martin (1965)


Martin seems to have been something of an oddity – she said she “tried existing but did not like it” and, like many before her and since, found stardom in the art world dangerously harmful. She painted with her back to the world, seeking to show things that defied articulation. Here is an image at the junction of minimalism and abstract expressionism: a vast grid of repeated patterns which perhaps at first sight doesn’t say much. But the longer, or the more, we look, the more we see. Is the field of gorgeous blues the calm night sky or the depths of the ocean? What do the pale circles in each square signify? Stars, lamps (I love lamp), or just geometry? Or they’re door handles on a kind of existential advent calendar (great band name). Each time you look, a different door offers itself. But this is also deliberately painted to dodge our tendency to want to pin things down to what we know, which might be infuriating and bland, or it might offer a transformational experience. For some, her work possesses a properly psychological spirituality, a pilgrimage to yourself. But it takes time, and a degree of surrender, to plug in to work that gently toys with perspective and texture, with what you see and how you see it, in a way that shows more than visible things. “My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind” she said. In other words, something that fills in the spaces and aims – with stillness, purity, and a sense of order – to counteract the cruel idea that “between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost”.