Agnes Martin was born on March 22, 1912 in Macklin, Saskatchewan, Canada and grew up in British Columbia, Canada. Martin moved to the United States in 1932, becoming a citizen in 1950. She received her BA from the Teachers College at Columbia University in 1942, and studied and taught at the University of New Mexico before receiving her MA in 1952, again from Columbia University. Martin is best known for her serene yet powerful paintings composed of grids and stripes, a style she committed to for more than forty years.
It was during her time pursuing her bachelor’s degree, at the age of thirty, that Martin decided to become an artist. Martin’s early work, done primarily in New Mexico in between her degrees, was informed by Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism. In 1957, on the advice of Betty Parsons, Martin returned to New York, settling into Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan. Surrounded by fellow artists Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jack Youngerman, Martin’s biomorphic works evolved into highly simplified geometric abstractions. Over the next six years, her work matured into the style she is now revered for—subtle monochrome works featuring penciled grids on large, square canvases.
In 1967, Martin abruptly stopped painting and left New York, traveling around the United States and Canada for a year and a half before resettling in New Mexico. She returned to art making in 1972, expanding on her previous use of graphite and 6-foot square canvases. For the next three decades, Martin focused primarily on seriality, gray monochrome, and stripes as a compositional structure. Through this style, Martin hoped to evoke insightful, positive experiences in the viewer.
Martin was included in the important “Systemic Painting” show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 1966. Major exhibitions of her work have been organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Philadelphia (1973); Hayward Gallery, London (1977); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1991); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1993); Dia:Beacon, New York (2004); and most recently, a traveling retrospective between 2015-2016 that was hosted at the Tate Modern, London; Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Martin’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Chinati Foundation, Marfa; the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Tate Modern, London, among many others.
Agnes Martin passed away at the age of 92 on December 16, 2004 in Taos, New Mexico.