my make believe collection :: 23 :: agnes martin

Contributor post by Lisa Solomon

untitled 1978

winter always feels like a reflective time. and in thinking about my long time heros - my "art roots" if you will - i always return to agnes martin.

sadly the internet is the worst possible venue for her work. there is simply no way to translate what her work does on a screen.

photo credit charles rushton

installation at pace gallery

you really really must be in front of them to get the experience. and a whole room of them is like another world. i had seen her work in person several times [individual pieces], but in the late 90's i was lucky enough to go to the armory show in NY and see a whole booth of her paintings.

i am not an outwardly spiritual person. i tend to underemphasize the "magical" quality of art [because in my mind either you get it or you don't and how do you vocalize that entirely personal experience?]. but confronted with a room full of martin's work and my mind and body really did feel altered forever.

gratitude 2001

a lot of people are dismissive of minimalism. they say things like "oh - my kid could do that" - or i don't get it - it's plain. boring. in martin's case: it's just about lines and dots - and grids. but really that isn't entirely true [try it - try drawing a series of circles in a line and see how yours turns out]. maybe you don't "get it" and that's ok - but next time you are around one see if your mind quiets. if your posture changes. if you like or dislike the colors - and why. what associations does your mind make ? where does your mind go ?

the sea 2003

i had a professor once who said if you can come up with one idea that you can run with your entire life as an artist consider yourself lucky. so agnes, then, had luck in spades. i don't think she ever got bored of deconstructing these lines, grids, and subtle shifts in color. it feels like a constant exploration. from work to work. one small change and the meaning changes. the beauty contracts or expands. and i respect that. i think it's easy to "mail it in" make work that you know how to make and just keep doing that. but her work never FEELS that way. it feels investigative. almost every time.

untitled 1960 [NYMOMA collection]

i think a lot about artists and their "vocabulary" - what we use to make what we make. we gravitate to certain colors, sizes, materials, subject matter. as i continue to make things year after year i realize i'm gravitating toward paring things down. what is the least amount of information i need to use to convey the mood/experience/subject that i want. basically WHAT IS ESSENTIAL and WHAT IS NOT? and again martin is a goalpost here.

untitled 1978
the grander idea of repetition. what happens in repetition? what happens in our mind [is it meditative, or something else]? how do we create order, pattern, meaning, symbols? do we break our experiences into shapes? if we make a dot 1000 times does is mean something different than making a dot once?

and as i contemplate this i continually return to agnes martin. she is the master.

if you ever watch any interviews with her - she is usually hypocritical, didactic, questioning - but in the most honest, straightforward, introspective way. i can't really describe it. she cracks me up and makes me incredible serious at the same time.

the islands 1961

and her writings. [again often contradictory, but really brilliant none the less]. when i feel lost i return to her words. here's a short snippet:

...When we wake up in the morning we are inspired to do some certain thing and we do do it. The difficulty lies in the fact that it may turn out well or it may not turn out well. If it turns out well we have a tendency to think that we have successfully followed our inspiration, and if it does not turn out well we have a tendency to think that we have lost our inspiration. But that is not true. There is successful work and work that fails, but all of it is inspired. I will speak later about successful works of art but here I want to speak of failures. Failures that should be discarded and completely cut off. I have come especially to talk to those who recognize all of their failures and feel inadequate and defeated, to those who feel insufficient-short of what is expected or needed. I would like somehow to explain that these feelings are the natural state of mind of the artist, that a sense of disappointment and defeat is the essential state of mind for creative work. In order to do this I would like to consider further those moments in which we feel joy in living....Whether conscious or unconscious they do their work and they are the incentive to life. A stockpile of these moments gives us an awareness of perfection in our minds and...makes all the difference in what we do. ..At such times we are suddenly very happy and we wonder why life ever seemed troublesome. In an instant we can see the road ahead free from all difficulties and we think that we will never lose it again. All this and a great deal more in barely a moment, and then it is gone. But all such moments are stored in the mind. They are called sensibility or awareness of perfection.

so for my collection??

untitled 1962
just wonky enough. and i love the dorky plain wood frame.
until next time - follow my collection on pinterest.


lisa solomon is a mixed media artist who lives in oakland, CA with her husband, young daughter, a one eyed pit bull, a french bulldog, a cross-eyed cat, a 3 legged cat, and many many spools of thread. she moonlights as a college professor, a graphic designer, and is a partner in MODify/d a crafty biz that up/cycles and re/purposes discards from the fashion industry.

Jan Halvarson


stereotype said...

Funny thing, yesterday while at the Art Gallery (AGO) shop a book on Agnes Martin caught my eye.
I realized that I hadn't seen her work in a while and had responded well to it in the past. I didn't open the book for some I read this.
Well written thank you.

mollie said...

I also love Agnes Martin. In grad school I had to write a research paper for one of my Art Theory classes and I used Agnes Martin as an example. She considered herself an abstract expressionist (she said so in an interview) and I included her in my paper as such. It made me so annoyed when my know it all professor marked that part out and said she was not. My professor obviously didn't "get" her work. ;)

lisa solomon said...

@sterotpye - it's so funny when life does that ! thanks for the kind words

@mollie :)

kathrynclark said...

I was just admiring one of her pieces at SFMOMA last week. I have her writing in my studio and refer to them frequently, just opening a page at random and finding a helpful comment. I agree about your 'mail it in' point. Every piece is something very new.

slowe said...

Probably "hypercritical" not "hypocrital." Speaking as one who is the former and tries not to be the latter. :) Lovely article.

lisa solomon said...

kathyrn... YES. so true

@ slowe - i do actually think she is hypocritical. she says one thing one time and then contradicts herself in how she acts, or what she says in another instance - but i find this a very genuine thing - i don't mean it as a put down. we are all hypocrites to some degree. i wish i could embrace it as much as she does... ;)