A personal tribute to Agnes Martin by fellow artist Rosemarie Castoro

  • Agnes Martin in her studio in New Mexico, 1992, photographed by Charles Rushton
    Agnes Martin in her studio in New Mexico, 1992, photographed by Charles Rushton

When Agnes Martin declared in a packed Pasadena lecture hall: ‘Artists have to be lonely,’ I spoke up and said: ‘Agnes, all you have to do is pick up the telephone.’ She turned to my familiar voice and replied: ‘MaryRose (transposing my name), did you come here to bug me?’ I laughed, since years earlier, in 1977, when I was visiting Agnes in Boulder, Colorado, I missed her call.

She had sent me a postcard telling me when she would place the call, as she had to drive sixteen miles to town to do so. I was conducting a symposium at that moment in Boulder and couldn’t be home next to a phone. Waiting for the spring break, I set out in a 1954 Chevy bought for the occasion, dog and bicycle in tow, to track her down according to the map she drew for me a few years earlier when she set off westward-ho in an old jeep. She confessed to me that she had stopped painting and just ‘made garages’. I told her she was making sculpture in her homesteading endeavours. The map showed a few forks in the canyon road, but when I got to the area, there were quite a few more with skeletal cow remains as secret signposts. The sun was setting and I backed out of the canyon, went into town and sent her a postcard from Cuba, New Mexico.

Photograph from Rosemarie Castoro’s Journal, 1970-71
Photograph from Rosemarie Castoro’s Journal, 1970-71

I had met Agnes in her studio in the late 1960s. We were both painters who made ‘paste-ups’ for a living, with triangles and T-squares on drafting boards as our tools in trade. I was using Prismacolor pencils at the time, cutting out huge triangles from cardboard to make multichrome paintings, and the straight edge of the canvas stretchers as my ‘drafting table’. Back then painters had a camaraderie, meeting through other painters. Often we would meet at bars, or visit each other’s studios for tea.

Rosemarie Castoro, Guinness Martin 1972
Rosemarie Castoro
Guinness Martin 1972
Masonite, gesso, graphite and modelling paste, 914 x 4572mm

In 1972 I made a ‘cut-out’ brush work for Agnes which was part of a series of wall sculptures created with a non-art brush – this one was a large broom – that spelled out her name in Pitman shorthand. I had made a series of these portraits based on friends’ names. ‘Guinness Martin’ came about as a disguise of Agnes’s name.

Agnes Martin, supported by the Henry Luce Foundation and Terra Foundation for American Art, with additional support from Artworkers Retirement Society, the Agnes Martin Exhibition Supporters Group, the Tate Americas Foundation and Tate International Council, Tate Modern, 3 June – 11 October 2015. The exhibition, curated by Frances Morris, head of collections, international art, and Lena Fritsch, assistant curator, Tate Modern, is organised by Tate Modern in collaboration with Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Rosemarie Castoro was an artist living and working in New York. She sadly died 18 May 2015, soon after this article was published.