Archive

Agnes Martin

15 August - 31 October 1999 

Inverleith House (as the Gallery of Modern Art) held an exhibition of drawings and screenprints (On a Clear Day) by Agnes Martin 25 years previous to this exhibition taking place and in remembrance of that, this exhibition showed recent paintings, and what we believe to be the first public showing in Britain of her feature length film ‘Gabriel' made in 1976.

"I paint out of certain experiences not mystical. I paint without representational objects. I paint beauty without idealism, the new real beauty that needs very much to be defined by modern philosophers. (I consider idealism, mysticism and conventions interferences on occasions of real beauty. Other interferences are evil, physical pain, mental pain and insularity.) I do not paint scientific discoveries or philosophies. I paint aesthetic analogies of belonging and sharing with everything. I paint to make friends and I hope to have as many as Mozart."

Agnes Martin was the descendent of Scottish pioneers who moved from the Isle of Skye to Canada in the late 19th century. Born in Maklin, Canada in 1912, she first came to prominence in New York in the late 1950s, with exhibitions at the Betty Parsons Gallery. At the time of this exhibition opening Martin was 87 and lived and worked in New Mexico, where she resided until her death in 2004. Numerous exhibitions included displays at the Hayward Gallery (1977) and The Serpentine (1993) in London, as well as in Europe and the United States. She was highly regarded for her geometric abstract works which convey a spiritual contemplation through rectilinear patterns repeated over the work. Linda Morris, in the leaflet which accompanied the Inverleith House show of 1974 summarised Agnes Martin's work as being about "honesty, purity, humility and inspiration."

Agnes Martin was born in the same year as Jackson Pollock and the year before Ad Reinhardt but began painting relatively late in terms of her career, essentially missing out on the boom of abstract expressionism Martin taught art and writing for many years before pursuing painting full-time. The major breakthrough came in 1957, at the age of forty five, when she returned to New York from New Mexico. Living in Coenites Slip, an artists' colony on the southern tip of Manhattan, she became good friends with and neighbour to artists such as Jack Youngerman, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana, James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg. When Agnes Martin left NewYork for New Mexico it was "not merely a yearning for freedom from worldly distractions, but also a positive desire for immersion in unspoiled surroundings of a preternatural beauty" Martin became positioned in a succession of painters leading from Piet Mondrian to Ad Reinhardt, and provided a strategic link between two generations of geometric abstractionists; the older, or more established artists such as Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt, and younger artists such as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt. Martin is seen by many as a seminal figure in Modern Art and a major influence on younger artists such as Eva Hesse, Richard Tuttle, and Robert Ryman.

All of the small paintings (12" x 12") in this exhibition were completed the year of the exhibition opening, whilst the larger canvases (5' x 5') were dated between 1995 and 1997.

We wish to thank PaceWildenstein, New York, for their collaboration in the organisation of this exhibition, and The Scottish Arts Council for their continued support of our programme.

Back to Top

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)