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American, born Canada, 1912 - 2004
Martin, Agnes Bernice
Born 22 March 1912 in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, Agnes Martin came to the United States in 1932. In the years between receiving her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Columbia University, she worked and taught in various parts of the country. At the urging of the art dealer Betty Parsons, Martin returned to New York City in 1957. She had shifted from a realistic style to a surrealist style characterized by biomorphic forms, but by 1958 her paintings were based on ordered precisely geometric shapes. She gradually began to work on paintings and drawings that consisted of horizontal and vertical lines within a measured grid format. Martin's use of the grid and her austere, geometric style led critics to associate her with minimalist artists such as Sol LeWitt and Frank Stella. However, Martin's goals were distinctly different. By drawing fragile, tremulous lines across expanses of lightly applied, delicate, atmospheric color, her work seemed to become light and air. Art for Martin was a spiritual pursuit, and in her geometric format she found a way to embody both atmosphere and expression. In 1967 the artist settled in New Mexico, where she painted, exhibited, and wrote until her death in Taos on 16 December 2004.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]