Agnes Martin

These prints express innocence of mind. If you can go with them and hold your mind as empty and tranquil as they are and recognise your feelings at the same time you will realize your full response to this work.

The work is extremely simple. She moved from naturalistic landscapes as a student through biomorphic forms to formal abstraction; then she eliminated all curved lines, having only vertical and horizontal lines. A work might have one main colour, or two vertical lines and one horizontal line dividing it into six equal blocks, of one or other of two colours; or broad stripes of colour.

After psychotherapy, I choose to be open to this. I take a stool, and sit before a choice of paintings, to drink them in. Biomorphic forms: those blobs are (to me!) clearly heads, in relation to each other.

The picture on the poster for the exhibition, Friendship, is 72″x72″, covered with gold leaf and a grid of fine straight lines ruled in graphite pencil. I sit before it and it moves me. The light reflected on the gold is very beautiful. I am aware how noisy this place is: even though this is far less popular an exhibition than Turner, or even Sonia Delaunay, I hear noise from the main galleries, echoes, voices, footfalls. I become aware of irregularities in gold or graphite, and they become important. The poster does not show that reflected light; such images can only ever give a sense of the work, but in this case not even that. Light reflects from a rough curve or triangle, digging down from the top edge towards the centre of the work, moving as I move my head slightly.

Those prints are grids of even lines. Sometimes the lines end in a printed edge-line, sometimes beyond it as in a noughts and crosses grid. Vertical lines are usually further apart than horizontal, sometimes closer; lines are different distances apart (always the same distance for one print), thinner or thicker. I move along the two rows of prints, eschewing sentences in my mind, sometimes even words, a wash of intense emotional response: joy and horror commingled.

I have picked a few paintings to sit before, the ones that speak to me, then the grey ones in room 8 are too much. I dash through. I cannot stop before any of them. I don’t know why, I feared them. That is the room I must go back to, the piece of myself I could not face.

It is not black per se: in the next, I sit before a symmetrical trapezium in perfect black. Those triangles with green tips show a sense of humour in their creator, then 91. I started chatting to Michael, a guard. “Did you see the lime green line?” I had not noticed it, though see it when he points it out; for him it produces purplish after-images resonating with the other colour, though it does not have that effect for me.

F, like S, exercises spirituality separately from emotion. For me, the full awareness of my emotion is my spirituality, and being strongly affected is a spiritual high; F is aware of hers, yet separate from it. That judge which is my prison, setting me at war with myself, could free me if I could be open to myself, permitting rather than resisting.

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 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR00179

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 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR00179

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