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Agnes Martin Biography


Abstract painter Agnes Martin had two major influences in her work: the landscapes of the New Mexico desert and the teachings of Taoism. After attending Summer Field School in New Mexico in 1947, Martin left and returned to its empty landscapes throughout her life, living there until her death in 2004, aged 92. She was first introduced to Taoism while studying at Columbia University in New York City in the early 1940s and was fascinated by it as a code of ethics and a guide to living. Both these inspirations show in her paintings: her early works reflected the desert landscape she was surrounded by. As her worked evolved, she incorporated pastel washes that brought a light, shimmering effect to her canvas, an expression of her spiritual development. This transformed again with her ‘Untitled No.4’ in 1994, where she brought in bright, bold colour washes mixed with gesso.

Agnes Martin also began to blend lines and move away from strict symmetry – she drew the lines on her canvas herself by hand. Martin lived her whole life alone and didn’t publicly speak about her sexual orientation. Because of this there was much speculation about her sexuality, leading to her being described as a closet homosexual. She was also a schizophrenic who voluntarily opted for electric shock therapy.

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