The pictures of Agnes Martin

The pictures of Agnes Martin, currently on display at Tate Modern, are calming, beautiful, and still. Most are the same large size and painted in the palest colours, particularly pink. Some are just white, and one collection of drawings were simply grids drawn in pencil.

Grids are central to her work. Go close to her paintings, and the grids show themselves. There might be hundreds of tiny rectangles, very regular and symmetrical. But usually the rectangles are painted, and the painting within each rectangle varies, so there is regularity (the grid) and irregularity (the painting within the rectangles).

A brick wall, I suddenly see, is exactly like that, so entertainingly are the windows of Tate Modern: the white blinds over the windows create the paleness of Martin’s pictures, the window frames supply the regularity, and the barely discernible clouds and buildings supply the irregularity.

I think of Martin painting these large pictures composed of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny rectangles. She was a schizophrenic and a lesbian, when it wasn’t acceptable to be a lesbian. Many of her 92 years she lived in the desert of New Mexico. I imagine that her life wasn’t easy; I imagine her disturbed and perturbed but finding peace in the delicacy and intricacy of drawing the grids and then painting the rectangles. From her discomfort comes the calm, beauty, and stillness that I’m enjoying.

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