Pi­o­neer, Painter, Icon

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight / Biography -

Henry Martin, Schaffner Press (MARCH) Soft­cover $18.95 (252pp), 978-1-943156-30-6

Agnes Martin got a late start in her art ca­reer, strug­gled with re­la­tion­ships at a time when she couldn’t live openly, dealt with men­tal ill­ness, and still be­came an im­por­tant fig­ure in the art world where her work was a bridge be­tween ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ist and min­i­mal­ist styles. In Agnes Martin: Pi­o­neer, Painter, Icon, Ir­ish arts writer Henry Martin tells her story from the be­gin­ning. His is work that re­mains in­ter­est­ing re­gard­less of the reader’s fa­mil­iar­ity with Agnes Martin and her art.

The book be­gins with the artist’s child­hood in Canada, in­clud­ing some of her own de­scrip­tions of its chal­lenges. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing col­lege, she be­gan a se­ries of les­bian re­la­tion­ships in which she lived with her part­ners, and her ge­o­graphic and ca­reer moves usu­ally aligned with those re­la­tion­ships. The book cov­ers Martin’s time in Taos, New Mex­ico, where she honed her craft be­fore try­ing her hand in the New York art world.

The book also places Martin and her grid­based paint­ings in the con­text of an Amer­i­can art scene still defin­ing it­self, when names like Pol­lock and Rothko were be­com­ing big. While she was mak­ing a name in art, Martin was also deal­ing with schizophre­nia; she en­dured painful treat­ments like elec­troshock ther­apy at the fa­mous Belle­vue Hos­pi­tal. Those ex­pe­ri­ences, com­bined with her de­ci­sion to walk away from art for a few years in the prime of her ca­reer, make her later suc­cess in gal­leries and the post­hu­mous in­flu­ence she achieved par­tic­u­larly hard won.

Along with the story of her life, the book in­cludes thumb­nails of quite a few of Martin’s paint­ings and a list of which mu­se­ums house them. In the af­ter­word and notes sec­tion, the au­thor also gives some de­tail about how he was able to pro­file such a fa­mously pri­vate artist. This is a well-re­searched book about an in­trigu­ing and in­flu­en­tial fig­ure.

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