Sublime

I like to get chatting on the tube. Reading over the shoulder of the pretty French woman on my left, I saw she was reading about energy healing, in particular chi massage for vital organs. So I asked her about it. The passage she was reading was keen to get the healer protected against sick energy from the recipient. Healers may take on the sicknesses of those they heal. The young, with greater vitality, may live with this for a while, but the sickness breaks through.

-What do you do to protect yourself? she asked.
-I don’t know. Perhaps all I do is to protect myself.

She got off at the next station. I try to protect myself, and it is not working.

I went to London to see my psychotherapist, but when I got to the GIC she was not there, and had not informed them where she was. I was very glad I had set out before they tried to contact me, because that meant they paid my train fare. So I went to Tate Modern to see the Agnes Martin exhibition for the third time.

The Islands is a series of twelve 72×72″ canvases, each covered in white acrylic paint. Each is divided into horizontal stripes, with no vertical lines: the edges of the stripes are one or two graphite pencil lines. Some of the stripes are lightly shaded with graphite. Before I entered I found a single stool leant against the wall, which I took, to sit before each canvas in turn. 1 ¾ hours later, I ceased looking at the twelfth, and went for chocolate cake and coffee. As I left, the guard said “Thank you”.

They are sublime. Any other art work I have seen I can impose my own rules, my own understanding on it. It fits within my world. We make our own understandings, something less than Reality but something each of us can more or less function in, and place new experiences within that framework- which is why it is so hard to get an inkling of what another human being is really like. But these, I cannot. I look at the wash of graphite- the words make no sense, except they express the feeling of it- at first feeling that I know how these stripes work: except that they do not follow my Understanding. They are Themselves, wholly other.

In that time, I seek to open myself to the things in front of me, as if meditating, and at another time curl up into a ball, protecting myself from them, but still looking. I rock: friends have rocked while sitting, for comfort, and I have not felt moved to do so before.

Looking at the edge of one, it is as if the darker stripe is divided into darker and lighter narrow graphite stripes. Looking at the middle of the wide stripe, I am unable to confirm this. So both understandings are possible.

Possibly because of seeing this art work, I could say today I am entirely of myself. Possibly, it liberates me.

They are beautiful things. The white acrylic paint shines in the well-lit gallery. They are on show at Tate Modern until the end of the exhibition on 11 October. They are normally at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which wants its url http://www.whitney.org on this post. The photo is fair use, as part of non-commercial criticism of the work.

The Islands at the Whitney museum of American art

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.