Agnes Martin (1912-2004) is a painter who was born in Canada but New Mexico was the place which she had spent the most time with.
She decided to become a painter when she was thirty. A few years later, while she was teaching in Taos in New Mexico, she was also engaging in creative endeavors on the side. Some regard her style of drawing as minimalism, but she defined it as abstract expressionism*. In 1957, she was discovered by Betty Parsons, a well-known art dealer, prompting her to move to New York. The next year, Betty organized Martin’s first individual exhibition, and Martin managed to blend in with local art circles very quickly. However, in 1967, she suddenly stopped creating artworks and spent one year and half a month travelling in the US and Canada before settling down in Cuba. There she lived in seclusion for a few years, and in 1972, she resumed drawing. Later on, she moved to Galisteo in New Mexico before eventually returning once again to Taos, her final place of living, where she carried on with her creative endeavors until her death at the age of 92.
新墨西哥州的自然景致，就這樣與她的創作融為一體，在畫作的命名上能夠略窺一二 —— 「The Islands」、「This Rain」、「The Wave」、「White Flower」、「On a Clear Day」等等，卻以她獨有的方式展現。
*註：抽象表現主義（Abstract Expressionism）又稱紐約畫派（The New York School）。在抽象繪畫當中，不強調幾何構成、美學與形象，在繪畫事件中以不精確、不可預知的方式，著重內在心理即興表現力量，發展出一種富個人語彙和潛意識想像的畫風 —— 抽象表現主義。他們的畫面都是非具象的，以立體派及超現實主義系統為基本，運用抽象的表現方法，追求內在和心理的表現，以最簡單的手法，表現最深刻的思想。
The natural landscape of New Mexico has been incorporated into her creations, as hinted in how she named her pieces, such as The Islands, This Rain, The Wave, White Flower, On a Clear Day. However, she had her own distinct way of presenting the landscape.
*Note: Abstract Expressionism is also known as The New York School. This branch of abstract drawing does not emphasize on geometric structures, aesthetics or shapes. The painting process is non-precise and unpredictable, laying more emphasis on the power of a spontaneous psychological expression, thereby giving birth to a style of painting abundant with personal expressions and subconscious imagination – thus the name “Abstract Expressionism”. The presentation is without exception non-objective and is built upon the foundation of cubism and surrealism by using an abstract way of representation to achieve an expression of the mind and the inner self. It uses the simplest way to express the deepest thoughts.
年輕時患上精神分裂症，一直是一個人生活的Agnes Martin，就似將畢生精力都灌注在繪畫創作上，內心的隱密情感在一幅幅畫布內傾瀉而出。四方畫框盛載著淡麗色彩，它的寧靜，像恰好劃出一道隙縫，讓人慢慢掉進她不見底的心河；在色彩之上，她以石墨筆繪出幼線，築成的網格與條紋似有規律地重複著，這幾近機械式的仔細與工整，被視為「克制」的表達手法，卻是用上巨大心力萃取情感，在無人知曉的悠長時光中畫出的一道道筆觸雖輕淡，卻承受著生命的重量，包覆她濃烈的情感。有說Agnes Martin在唸大學時聽過禪宗學者鈴木大拙的演講後深受影響，即使從未因此變成宗教信仰，在她作品上的恬靜與純粹，好像看得到在她思想內的潛移默化。
“The object of painting is to represent concretely our most subtle emotions.”
Agnes Martin was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was young. Having led a solitary life, Agnes Martin devoted her heart and effort solely to creating paintings, and in one after another canvass, she poured out the hidden motions in her mind. Enclosed inside a rectangular picture frame are colors both pale and beautiful, and it seems as though its serenity has cut open a gap, letting one fall gradually into the bottomless river of her mind. As for the use of colors, with a graphite pen, she drew thin lines which together compose grids and stripes that appear to form an organized pattern. Such an attention to detail and neatness, which borders on mechanical, has been regarded as a “retrained” way of expression. But in fact, she has put her heart and soul into extracting these emotions. Over long stretches of time unbeknown to anyone, these brush strokes were made, and despite being light and delicate, each of them bear the weight of life and envelop her strong emotions and feelings. According to a saying, Agnes Martin was deeply influenced by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, a zen scholar, back in her university years when she attended one of his lecture. Even though this has not transformed into a religious belief, from the tranquility and purity of her work, one can seemingly spot its subtle influence on her thoughts.
Recently, these paintings have been exhibited at an Agnes Martin retrospect at Solomon R. Guggenheim in Museum in New York, including a total of more than 115 pieces, encompassing her creations from 1950s to early 21st century. You can get an advanced glimpse by experiencing the voice guide offered by the museum.
COS is a fashion brand which has persistently played an active role in interacting with the art sector. Over the years, Agnes Martin has been their team’s source of inspiration. It is just befitting, then, that they have become a sponsor for this exhibition. In addition, the brand has further drawn inspiration from Martin by reimagining her works in designing a capsule collection comprising twelve pieces for men and women. The brand has drawn upon Martin’s signature use of grids and stripes when designing the prints on the shirts, with their own twist. As for style, they have made references to how Agnes Martin dressed – an oversized jacket on top of a shirt with stand-up collars, paired with long trousers and a pair of sneakers or Loafer shoes. That was her usual outfit at her studio workshop, and its simplicity with ease makes it convenient for her to paint.
The brand’s promotional images showcase fashion models donning items in the collection and appearing in Solomon R. Guggenheim museum, on the corridors as well as in front of buildings, blending in extraordinarily well with the atmosphere, achieving a seamless blend of people and background without a hint of disharmony. “The incredible richness and tactility of her work has always inspired our fabrics and designs; her use of subtle colour and dedication to her technique and style elevates apparently simple lines and grids to something extraordinary,” noted Karin Gustafsson, the creative director of COS, about the collaboration.
曾有人說， 觀賞Agnes Martin的畫作，「你能看到什麼就是什麼。」我想不只是Agnes Martin的作品，任何藝術創作，關於原創者的動機與意念，最後都只能靠觀者心神領會。而如果一件作品能夠啟迪他人，自會敵過時間，發揮它的力量，大概這就是創作最偉大的事情吧。
Someone once said that when seeing Agnes Martin’s paintings, “what you see is what you get”. I think it is not limited to her pieces. For any artistic creations, when it comes to the motivation or ideas of the creator, it always comes down to the spectator’s own interpretation and tacit understanding. And if a piece of work has the capacity for inspiring others, it naturally can transcend over time, bringing its power into play. This, probably, is the greatest thing about creation.
“I would like [my pictures] to represent beauty, innocence and happiness. I would like them all to represent that. Exaltation.”
Agnes Martin Exhibition
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Ave New York, New York
October 7, 2016 to January 11, 2017