Monday, January 12, 2009

Agnes Martin, Homeless Artist

OK, so this isn't Agnes Martin's actual camper, but she did have one for a while and she was technically homeless, living out of her pickup truck for about eighteen months between leaving New York in 1967 (because the building she lived in on Coenties Slip was going to be demolished) and settling in New Mexico in 1968.  She spent that year-and-a-half travelling around the American West and Canada.  Martin's homeless period ended when she got a job at her Alma Mater, the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and, with the help of her students, built a house in Cuba, New Mexico.  Subsequently, she moved to Galisteo, followed by Taos, New Mexico, where she died in 2004.  She always had pretty humble digs, considering how successful she became (I remember when her Galisteo house was for sale for $300K, circa 2000), even though the southwest surroundings were always breathtaking.

Martin made the most beautiful, simple paintings, many of which have been shown not ten minutes walk from where I sit typing this, at Dia:Beacon.  Her writings were also remarkable, and, in many ways, a product of her solitary, reclusive lifestyle.  If you don't already have it, Agnes Martin: Writings, now out of print, is worth every penny, particularly if you've ever had any doubts or regrets about being an artist (or continue to have them on a daily basis).  Agnes Martin makes it all make sense.  The closest thing to a catalogue raisonné for Martin is still the 1992 Whitney exhibition catalogue by Barbara Haskell.  This book, too, contains many of Agnes Martin's writings.  A new book by Dia Foundation and Yale University Press will be published this summer.  There's also an amazing 2002 DVD about Agnes Martin, With My Back to the World.

Here's a glimpse into Agnes Martin's process (picked completely at random from Writings), from the essay, "On the Perfection Underlying Life:"

The process of life is hidden from us.  The meaning of suffering is held from us.  And we are blind to life.

We are blinded by pride.  Pride has built another structure and it is called "Life", but living the prideful life we are frustrated and lost.  It is not possible to overthrow pride.  It is not possible because we ourselves are pride, Pride the Dragon and Pride the Deceiver as it is called in mythology.  But we can witness the defeat of pride because pride cannot hold out.  Pride is not real, so sooner or later it must go down.

When pride in some form is lost we feel very different.  We feel the victory over pride, and we feel very different being for a moment free of pride.  we feel a moment of perfection that is indescribable, a sudden joy in living.

Thanks to Truck Camper News for the pic.


  1. I'd like to find her book. It's not at LA Public.

  2. As I write this, there's one on Amazon for $17 (see "Agnes Martin: Writings" link, above). That's a good price.

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