Agnes Martin – a journey into tranquility

Whenever I feel really stressed out, I have the words of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to hold onto to – ‘Imagine yourself in a boat by a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies‘ – and I take the journey through this landscape, just lying back on that boat, gently moving along with the sights and sounds of an imaginery place.  The Agnes Martin exhibition does exactly the same thing – relaxes the mind and body and takes you to another world.

The first room was a delightful display of her more mature works and it gives the unitiated, such as myself, a flavour of what is to come.

Happy Holiday (1999) The palette for this painting was soothing to the eye and to the OCD in us all.  The pale blue panels top and bottom, along with the peach/pink tones of the stripes was reminiscent of a gentle seascape – not the harsh colours and lights of the Med, but a far more subtle scene.  This link to the Tate’s website gives an insight into Martin’s palette and makes interesting reading:

Happy Holiday 1999 Agnes Martin 1912-2004 ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
Happy Holiday 1999 Agnes Martin 1912-2004

Room 4 sees the grid paintings for which Martin appears to be most famous for.  She said, in 1967, ” More and more I excluded from my paintings all curved lines, until finally my compositions consisted only of vertical and horizonatal lines.”  This room has three key paintings: The Islands (1961), Friendship (1963) and A Grey Stone (1963)

You think that this is something anyone can do, but as you look closer at these works, you can see that the repetitive grid system is not quite as rigid as it seems with the colour fluctuating underneath the grid:


So far, I was soothed to the point that I needed to lie down – all cares and worries had gone, so you would think that more of the same was in order – but no!

Room 9 turned out to be my favourite room of all.  The wall quote from 1966 said this: “My paintings have neither objects nor space nor time nor anything – no forms.  They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form’

The paintings in this room were designated as a series and that they should always be shown together.  Known as The Islands, these twelve identical white paintings were incredible.  They eminated as silence that was so absorbing – being dressed all in black, I felt like an intruder in this world, but I could not help but look deeper into the canvases to see where the differences in brushstrokes, or thickness of the paint occurred.  They were so restful and in contrast to the turbulence that Martin had in her life.  I always try to avoid reading the critics’ reviews to avoid spoilers, and this was one occasion where I was glad I took my own advice.  If you plan to see this exhibition, avoid the links below until after your visit!

Agnes Martin Press Call, Tate Modern 2.6.15
Agnes Martin Press Call, Tate Modern 2.6.15

My only criticism of this room was that I would have preferred it to be all in white as the wooden floor did detract from the experience.

This was a fascinating insight into someone’s entire work and if you are looking for peace, tranquility and contemplation, then this is the exhibition for you.



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