On Painting

Agnes Martin on What Everything is About

One of my favorite take-aways from a recent visit to San Francisco was a 1976 special prints issue of ARTnews magazine in which a rare interview with the reclusive artist Agnes Martin was published. I found this magazine in the back corner room of a large art supply store (Flax, if you've ever been) for $2. It was stacked there with a selection of other great old magazines, intended for use in collage it seemed. But I love looking through old magazines. I wished I could have snatched them all up, but I refrained and only took four.

Some favorite excerpts from the interview follow... but first, the title of the article: "Agnes Martin: Everything, everything is about feeling... feeling and recognition"

Block Island Ferry Diptych, oil on canvas, 24 x 48"

"' Toward freedom is the direction that the artist takes... Art work comes straight through a free mind - an open mind. Absolute freedom is possible. We gradually give up things that disturb us and cover our mind. And with each relinquishment, we feel better. You think it would be easy to discover what is blinding you, but it isn't so easy. It's pride and fear that cover the mind... Of course most people don't really have to come to grips with pride and fear. But artists do because, as soon as they're alone and solitary, they feel fear... To recognize and overcome fear and pride, in order to have freedom of mind, is a long process.' "

" 'I think that in order to be an artist, you have to move. When you stop moving, you're no longer an artist... I think that everyone is on his own line. I think that after you've made one step, the next step reveals itself. I believe that you were born on this line. I don't say that the actual footsteps were marked before you get to them, and I don't say that change isn't possible in your course. But I *do* believe we unfold out of ourselves, and we do what we were born to do sooner or later.' "

"Does something tell Martin what she must paint? 'No. Something tells you that you *haven't* yet painted what you must paint. Then when you finally paint what you're supposed to paint, then something tells you, 'O.K., this is it!' If you accept a painting that has good points, but isn't really *it* then you're not on the right track. You're permanently derailed. It's through discipline and tremendous disappointment and failure that you arrive at what it is you must paint.' "