The Gallery, Winchester Discovery Centre (Winchester, UK): ARTIST ROOMS 2018: Agnes Martin
- Agnes Martin 1912–2004
- Acrylic paint and graphite on canvas
- Support: 1524 x 1524 mm
frame: 1543 x 1543 mm
- ARTIST ROOMS
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d'Offay 2010
On long term loan
I Love the Whole World is an abstract painting by the Canadian-American artist Agnes Martin. This five-foot square canvas is painted with horizontal peach stripes on a white background. The stripes are divided into two sets of eight with a white band running horizontally between them and directly through the centre of the canvas. Above and below the sets of peach stripes there are white channels the same width as the central band that extend to the edge, while on the left and right sides the stripes extend the length of the canvas. Graphite pencil lines demarcate the edges of each stripe, although they taper off toward the edges of the canvas. Horizontal brushstrokes are faintly visible within each stripe.
This painting was made in Martin’s studio in Taos, New Mexico, where she moved in 1993. As with all her works of this period, Martin created I Love the Whole World by first priming the canvas with an opaque white acrylic gesso. She then carefully measured out the divisions of the stripes and used a small eighteen-inch ruler to draw the horizontal pencil lines across the canvas. She explained that ‘using a big ruler to draw a line clear across the canvas is impossible. The canvas goes back just a little, and the line’s not straight’ (quoted in Simon 1996, p.84). The pale peach stripes themselves were painted using very diluted orange acrylic paint. In her early career Martin used oil paints, but by 1966 she was using acrylics almost exclusively, favouring Liquitex, the first commercially produced water-based acrylic emulsion available in the United States. Acrylic dries much faster than oil and retains its colour in diluted form, qualities which Martin took advantage of, allowing the paint to dry between each layer that she added to build up the colour. Liquitex gives a translucent matte finish, which can be seen in I Love the Whole World. The artist applied the colour to the canvas in vertical stripes, subsequently rotating the canvas by ninety degrees once the paint was dry. She explained that ‘you can’t put it on horizontally. It would drip down’ (quoted in Simon 1996, p.84).
Up until 1993 Martin consistently used a six-foot-square format for her paintings (see, for example, Morning 1965, Tate T01866). This size appealed to her for its enveloping relationship with the viewer’s body: she saw it as ‘a size you can walk into’ (quoted in Lynne Cooke (ed.), Agnes Martin, New York 2011, p.105). By her later career this large format became increasingly difficult to handle and so in 1993 she shifted to a more practical five-foot-square format, as used for I Love the Whole World. This remained a large enough size for the painting to take up the majority of the viewer’s visual field when standing in front of it, allowing the eye to adjust to the sparseness and paleness of the painting without distraction.
Martin’s paintings are known for their subtle nuances of tonal variation and compositional effect. For example, viewers might notice the way in which the graphite lines do not quite reach the edge of the canvas, creating the impression that the stripes float across the visual field. In addition, the dilute application of the paint gives the surface a shimmering luminosity, as the colour appears to be veiled over the white background. The paleness of the painting also makes it particularly susceptible to light conditions, absorbing and reflecting light so that its surface is always subtly changing. Art historian Briony Fer has argued that ‘Martin’s paleness is her weapon of regeneration, just as Reinhardt’s weapon of negation was black’, so that whereas Martin’s contemporary, the American painter Ad Reinhardt, declared the end of painting with his stark black canvases, Martin declared its rebirth with her bright, pale paintings (Fer 2015, p.179). The life-affirming title of this painting, I Love The Whole World, also serves to substantiate Fer’s point.
Martin went through periods of titling her paintings, and periods of leaving them untitled. This work forms part of a group of paintings made since the late 1990s with titles that are celebratory and exuberant: Happy Holiday 1999 (Tate AR00179), Lovely Life 1999, Happiness-Glee 1999, Love and Goodness 2000, Beautiful Life 2000. Art historian Ned Rifkin has noted that these titles ‘evoke Martin’s embrace of sheer goodness, pervasive well-being, and a joyous sense of the sublime’, a philosophy that is apparent in the artist’s writings (Rifkin 2002, p.27). Along with I Love the Whole World these paintings all share the five-foot-square format, the use of a pale, luminous palette produced with dilute paint, and compositions that are based upon horizontal bands or stripes. Martin gave this title to one other painting: I Love the Whole World 2000 (reproduced Morris 2015, p.182), which has almost the same composition as I Love the Whole World 1999, but with pale blue stripes instead of peach.
Martin described the way in which she had ‘inspirations’ that catalysed the creation of each new work of art. Seeing the finished painting in her mind’s eye Martin would then translate this vision into reality, methodically measuring out the divisions of the canvas as she had seen them (Nancy Princenthal, Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art, London 2015, p.93). However, as she said, ‘we can see perfectly, but we cannot do perfectly’ (Dieter Schwarz (ed.), Agnes Martin: Writings/Schriften, Winterthur 1991, p.32), so that while the ‘inspiration’ was perfect, the final painting always contained slight imperfections – wavering pencil lines or pooled paint – brought about by the human hand. Martin aimed at perfection in the full knowledge that she could not achieve it. As she explained: ‘I hope I have made it clear that the work is about perfection as we are aware of it in our minds but that the paintings are very far from being perfect – completely removed in fact – even as we ourselves are.’ (Quoted in Schwarz 1991, p.15.)
Joan Simon, ‘Perfection is in the Mind: An Interview with Agnes Martin’, Art in America, vol.84, no.5, May 1996, pp.82–9, 124.
Ned Rifkin, Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond, exhibition catalogue, Menil Collection, Houston 2002, p.27, reproduced p.85.
Briony Fer, ‘Who’s Afraid of Triangles?’ in Frances Morris (ed.), Agnes Martin, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2015, pp.172–81.
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.
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