Agnes Bernice Martin was an American abstract painter. She was born on March 22, 1912 in Macklin, Saskatchewan and grew up in Vancouver. In 1931, she moved to the United States, acquiring U.S. citizenship in 1940. She first studied at Western Washington University College of Education in Washington. She later received a B.A. at Teachers College in Columbia University in 1942. She then acquired her matriculation at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and in 1952, returned to Columbia University to earn an M.A. She taught art classes for a few years at the University of New Mexico.
In 1957, Agnes Martin moved to New York City after a gallery owner named Betty Parsons discovered her and encouraged her to move to New York and work there. Martin moved to Manhattan and settled in with a community of artists including Barnett Newman, Robert Indiana, Jack Youngerman and Ellsworth Kelly. She became friends with many sculptors, painters and other famous artists, who helped and supported her, particularly Newman, who also helped her to set up her exhibitions at Betty Parson’s gallery. She also developed a close friendship with the artist Ad Reinhardt, who mentored her during this time and influenced her art in an important way.
Martin was very influenced by Asian philosophy and thought, primarily due to some lectures that she attended on the subject at Columbia University by a Zen Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki. She adopted Asian and Eastern philosophy as a way of life, particularly Taoism. She continued to paint and held several exhibitions. She rarely critiqued or commented on other artists’ work, except for writing a brief introduction to a brochure about her friend Lenore Tawney’s exhibition in 1961. When Reinhardt died in 1967, Martin moved to New Mexico. She stopped painting for almost 7 years and did not hold any exhibitions during that time. She also isolated herself from her friends and colleagues, and did not attend any social events or make any public appearances.
By the 1970s, she started to get back into painting. In collaboration with an architect named Bill Katz, she built a log cabin that she used as her studio. In 1975, she completed a batch of paintings that she exhibited. She continued to paint and hold exhibitions until shortly before her death. She has held more than 85 solo exhibitions all over America and Europe, such as Amsterdam, France and Germany. The Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexicom exhibited her work on paper in 1998. In 2002, the Harwood Museum of Art at the University of New Mexico, Pandora, organized an exhibition called “Agnes Martin: Paintings from 2001” to celebrate her 90th birthday.
Her artistic style has been labeled as intellectualist as well as abstract expressionist. She used lines, grids and subtle colors in her paintings. Her signature canvases were 6 × 6 foot square canvases, which she later changed to 60 × 60 inches. She has received many honors and awards for her work, including the Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Women’s Caucus for Art of the College Art Association in 2005, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992, the National Medal of Arts in 1998, the Golden Lion for Contribution to Contemporary Art in 1997 and was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1989. She has inspired many younger artists and died at the age of 92 in Taos, New Mexico.