Agnes Martin (1912 – 2004), was an American abstract painter. Her work has been defined as an "essay in discretion on inward-ness and silence". Although she is often considered or referred to as a minimalist, Martin considered herself an abstract expressionist and was one of the leading practitioners of Abstract Expressionism in the 20th century. She was awarded a National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998. She was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2004.
Born on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, Canada, Agnes Martin immigrated to the United States in 1932 in the hopes of becoming a teacher. After earning a degree in art education, she moved to the desert plains of Taos, New Mexico, where she made abstract paintings with organic forms, which attracted the attention of renowned New York gallerist Betty Parsons, who convinced the artist to join her roster and move to New York in 1957. There, Martin lived and worked on Coenties Slip, a street in Lower Manhattan, alongside a community of artists—including Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jack Youngerman—who were all drawn to the area’s cheap rents, expansive loft spaces and proximity to the East River.
Over the course of the next decade, Martin developed her signature format: six by six foot painted canvases, covered from edge to edge with meticulously penciled grids and finished with a thin layer of gesso. Though she often showed with other New York abstractionists, Martin’s focused pursuit charted new terrain that lay outside of both the broad gestural vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism and the systematic repetitions of Minimalism. Rather, her practice was tethered to spirituality and drew from a mix of Zen Buddhist and American Transcendentalist ideas. For Martin, painting was “a world without objects, without interruption… or obstacle. It is to accept the necessity of … going into a field of vision as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean.”