Agnes Martin: From Manhattan-fame to Disolving into the Desert
The story of Agnes Martin and her exemplary frankness invite us to rethink our priorities in life.
In the 1960s, Agnes Martin was part of a community of artists in Manhattan, among which was Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Rauschenberg. She grew up in Canada, studied to be an art teacher and says that one day she came across the works of the abstract expressionists Rothko and Reinhardt and realized that she could live from her art.
In New York she was in the best place to carve out a successful career: there was an abundance of cultural offerings in the city and she was surrounded by friends and artists that admired and promoted her. But one day in 1967 Martin gave away her paints and canvases, climbed into a truck and abandoned New York. For four years she traveled across the US and Canada. For four years she didn’t paint.
She disappeared when she was at her zenith. She left everything behind, the city, her friends and painting. Perhaps it was the speed, the over abundance, the competition in New York that were suffocating her. One day Martin was hospitalized, when she was found wandering the streets of New York in a kind of trance. Very little is known of that episode. And neither is it known why she left the city: “I decided to try a solitary and simple life to see if I could become wise,” she said.
There is much influence of Oriental philosophy in Martin’s thinking. In her writings one of the most recurring ideas is that of inspiration; for Martin inspiration is always there and it is achieved by calming the mind. “Of course we know that an untroubled state of mind cannot last. So we say that inspiration comes and goes but really it is there all the time waiting for us to be untroubled again.” At some point, Martin had a vision: adobe and the desert. And she chased it. She arrived in the desert of New Mexico and moved to Taos, to a huge plateau under Sangre de Cristo mountain, near the Rio Grande. Probably attracted by the landscape, it was also home to Aldous Huxley, Ansel Adams, Carl Jung and Georgia O’Keeffe, among others.
In the middle of the desert, Martin built an adobe house. She constructed it with her own hands, as she had also built all the furniture in her Manhattan apartment, and as she had painted all of her paintings without an assistant. And there, in that absolute isolation, in that house from which she could not come out in winter because of the snow, and sometimes for weeks on end, she began to paint again.
Before giving them all the title of Untitled, Martin’s paintings, of an almost minimalist abstract style, were named after flowers and landscapes. People often see landscapes in them, horizons in those lines that cross the canvas with a subtle vibration. Martin would say that it was not the landscape that she wanted to portray, but the feeling that such a landscape provoked in the viewer: “I was painting the way you feel when you’re looking at the Tundra.”
What you feel when you look at a landscape, or at Martin’s pictures, for many is similar to happiness: “People who look at my painting say that it makes them happy … And happiness is the goal, isn’t it?”
Martin’s quest has something to do with John Cage’s, who also sought plenitude in emptiness and silence. Her idea of not being, in this sense, comes from Oriental thought and is recorded in the infinite minimalism of her paintings.
Martin’s story is one of a woman who rebelled against the conventional route of fame, when she had it so close, and who transformed her life for enigmatic reasons. Her ideas place us on the threshold of madness and mysticism; her paintings, however, are fragments of desert peace.
Why shrinking the size of life is synonymous of well-being
One of the great misunderstandings regarding modern spirituality is that to achieve it requires many things: readings, food, exercise, travel, groups and techniques. But perhaps it should be suggested
What is energy medicine yoga?
Energy Medicine Yoga (EMYoga) is slightly different from other types of Yoga, but it provides the same benefits in addition to a few very specific ones. One of them is that it gives you much more in
Red tea, the best antioxidant beverage on earth
Red tea is considered to be the most unusual of teas because it implies a consistently different preparation process. ––It is believed that its finding came upon surprisingly when traditional green
Is the internet on the verge of self-awareness?
More than 50 years ago, Marshall McLuhan described technology as an extension of our brains, constantly mutating and branching out. “These new media have made our world into a single unit,” the
How art can help us to age, healthy
Perhaps many of us already well know the formula for aging in health and wellness. A balanced diet and, as much as possible, one that’s natural. Keep our brains active and stimulated. Preserve and
Earthanima: documenting the living language of nature
The basic intuition that the Earth is alive and that nature has a language through which it communicates with us is what prompted this wood-art project named Earthanima. For the past couple of years
Dialogue with the Dalai Lama on science and spirituality
The Dalai Lama has been interested in science since he was a child. Over the years he’s visited many laboratories and has attended conferences that discuss consciousness from the scientific point of
Brian Eno's literary recommendations to rebuild society
Artists and authors often get asked what books or records they’d take with them to a deserted island. On principle, this is naturally an extreme anthology: urgency and tragedy guide its selection. It
Bill Mollison, natural ideologue and father of permaculture
Permaculture has established itself as a path towards communitarianism, but one that is in full symbiosis with nature. In practice, it is more than just a combination of agriculture, horticulture
A New Year's resolution for the earth
Worrisome quantities of waste are generated by human populations. Especially in cities, these have reached unprecedented and alarming levels. A largely uncontrolled practice, it affects everything on