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ARTIST ROOMS: Agnes Martin

Tate Modern, London
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The abstract paintings of Agnes Martin invite contemplation, reflecting on perfection, beauty and spirituality

Agnes Martin was a key figure in the male-dominated field of abstract art in the USA. In the 1950s and 1960s her work was often associated with abstract expressionism and minimalism. However, Martin’s methods were different. In her meticulous, hand-painted artworks, ordered geometry and imperfection co-existed.

The paintings in this display consist of horizontal bands of colour, divided by delicate pencil lines. The bands initially appear uniform, but on closer inspection, faint brushstrokes and pools of paint emerge. These marks give the artworks a hand-made feel, undermining the rigid geometry of the composition. As Martin said, ‘the work is about perfection as we are aware of it in our minds but... the paintings are very far from being perfect – completely removed in fact – even as we ourselves are.'

Martin’s work was influenced by Zen Buddhism and Chinese Tao philosophy. Her paintings explore the inner emotional world and the human desire for peace and serenity. She considered art to be a transcendent experience. She explained, ‘Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not just in the eye. It is in the mind. It is our positive response to life’.

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