Coming of age during the ascent of Minimalism, Agnes Martin brought a new voice to the that era's literalist Zeitgeist, successfully channeling her unique visual framework through half a century of her oeuvre. Adhering to the frank exposition of materials and techniques and to the radically simplified formats of the grid, she nonetheless mined the expressive potential of pared-down abstraction, infusing her work with a measure of delicacy and meditation. Coupled with the idiosyncrasies of their handmade construction, Martin generated poetic counterparts to the hard edges, sleek surfaces and industrial fabrications of more doctrinaire manifestations of Minimalism. As Loving Love illustrates, she created works that were intimate, joyful -- even playful -- and far from nonallusive. Yielding to the luminous glow of pink and blue bands, demarcated by the artist's tremulous pencil lines, the present work expands in front of the viewer like a soulful revelation of profound emotion.
Drawn to the sublime abstractions of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, who each used art as a vehicle for certain concrete but ineffable feelings, Martin worked towards a geometric style that conveyed her metaphysical ambitions. Indeed, rather than stating the purely material aspects of painting, she transformed the objective clarity of the grid into portals of subjective emotion and spiritual resonance. In her breakthrough years of the early 1960s, she created 6x6 foot square canvases that were covered in dense, minute and softly delineated graphite grids that dissolved into transcendent experiences beyond their physical parameters. Of this tendency she once said, "My paintings have neither object nor space nor line nor anything -- no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form" (A. Martin, quoted in N. Rifkin, Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, exh. cat., The Menil Collection, Houston, 2002, pp. 14-15). This sentiment resounded throughout her career and especially during her later artistic flowering.
Created in the last decade of her life, Loving Love is a pinnacle of Martin's quest. A radiant work from the nineties, it features a collection of broad, horizontal bands, each demarcated by the artist's trademark pencil lines and filled in with alternating washes of pink and blue. Appearing diagrammatic up close, these bands palpitate at a distance, advancing and receding, coming in and out of focus. Coalescing with veil-like ethereality in expansive pools of radiance, they sometimes seem to defy their material basis.
This exalted reception of Loving Love mirrors Martin's process, which is meditative and akin to a form of prayer. Beginning by drawing graphite lines on gessoed surfaces using strings that were stretched tautly across the canvas, she enacted each line as a balancing act, requiring intense concentration and halting progress, (which showed in the visible tremors of the obviously hand-made final product). Varying the spacing, sometimes using equidistant separations and sometimes conjuring complicated and intricate patterns, Martin varied her compositions in slight but noticeable shifts that is evident in the arrangement of Loving Love. Next she added color, but in the unique manner that seemed almost emptied of it. In fact, mixing and modulating her own shades of acrylic paint, she then diluted them to the palest washes that spoke to intimations of hue rather than material statements of pigment. Coupled with the chalky whites of her gessoed surfaces, color appeared bleached out into ghost-like versions of itself, flooding the canvas with light and an almost unbearable lightness.
Created after Martin's move to Taos in 1993, Loving Love is clearly influenced by the brilliance of the desert, although its evocation is not descriptive but rather evocative of the open skies, desert dunes and characteristic light of Martin's adopted home. Indeed, the present work filters the artist's Minimalist format through her relationship with her surroundings in a work that is open and elastic -- as expansive as the desert, and the emotion for which it is named. Despite its smaller 5x5 foot square format to which the artist switched in the last ten years of her life, Loving Love is limitless in its cadence of light, form and color. It is not a picture of anything in particular but rather, of so much more.