Agnes Martin, ‘Happy Holiday’ 1999
Agnes Martin, Happy Holiday 1999 . ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland . © estate of Agnes Martin

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Art in ARTIST ROOMS: Agnes Martin

I Love the Whole World

© estate of Agnes Martin

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Agnes Martin
I Love the Whole World
1999

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.

Happy Holiday

© estate of Agnes Martin

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Agnes Martin
Happy Holiday
1999

Martin applied an opaque base coat of white acrylic gesso (or primer) to this work. The gesso was overlaid with stripes of diluted blue and peach acrylic paint. The layered application of materials creates a translucent and light-reflecting finish. The bands of colour don’t quite reach the edges of the canvas. The small gaps create the impression that the blue and peach washes are floating against the bright, white background.

Gallery label, January 2020

Faraway Love

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Agnes Martin
Faraway Love
1999

Refined over many decades, Martin’s distinctive late style was characterised by her use of uniform size canvases and horizontal bands of pale luminous colour divided by hand-drawn lines. She refused to identify with a particular faith, but believed in art as a realm of transcendent experience, and said, ‘Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not just in the eye. It is in the mind. It is our positive response to life.’

Gallery label, October 2016

Untitled #5

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Agnes Martin
Untitled #5
1994

Untitled #5 is a large abstract painting on canvas by the Canadian–American artist Agnes Martin, signed and inscribed by the artist on its verso. The square pictorial field is divided into eleven horizontal bands of white, blue and peach acrylic paint. The colours alternate in a regular pattern and the divisions are demarcated by wavering graphite pencil lines. As with all works from this period by Martin, Untitled #5 was begun by priming the entire surface of the canvas with an opaque coating of white acrylic gesso, which is never fully covered by subsequent layers of colour. This gives the painting a visual sparseness and vibrant luminosity; the thick white gesso sealing and emphasising the slightly toothy texture of the linen canvas support. On top of this base coat of paint the artist measured out and marked with pencil rectangular bands across the width of the canvas, into which she painted alternating duck-egg blue and pale peach ‘salmon-brick’ colours using a different type of acrylic, Liquitex, which gives a translucent and tempera-like finish. These same colours appear in the later paintings Faraway Love 1999 (Tate AR00178) and Happy Holiday 1999 (Tate AR00179), but in Untitled #5 they are applied with lighter, looser brush strokes and the Liquitex was diluted to produce almost gestural veils of colour. Within the composition’s repeating horizontals, the three bands left empty of colour are also the widest, at approximately one and a half times the width of the peach and blue bands. This irregularity reinforces the white gesso’s role as a blank background onto which colours and pencil marks have been inscribed. The painting was completed by further reinforcement of the pencil lines demarcating the striped surface of the canvas. By drawing on top of the acrylic paints, Martin reverses the traditional notion of drawing as preparatory work to be painted over. These strong, persistent horizontal lines are the final addition to the work, and are drawn so as not to reach the edge of the canvas, creating the impression that they are floating across the colour field. Explaining her drawing technique, the artist stated in an interview with the critic Joan Simon that:

Untitled #10

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Agnes Martin
Untitled #10
1995

Martin used a short metal ruler and masking tape to create her lines. She applied the paint in vertical stripes, rotating the canvas by 90 degrees once the paint was dry. She explained that ‘you can’t put it on horizontally. It would drip down’. Despite her use of a ruler, the lines that Martin produced are not rigidly straight. They trace the texture of the linen canvas, creating an undeniably hand-drawn quality.

Gallery label, January 2020

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Agnes Martin
On a Clear Day
1973

This group of 30 prints highlights Martin’s long-standing interest in the grid structure. Each sheet is divided differently but in a precise, almost mechanical way. According to Martin, ‘These prints express innocence of mind. If you can go with them and hold your mind as empty and tranquil as they are and recognise your feelings at the same time you will realise your full response to this work’.

Gallery label, January 2020

Art in this room

I Love the Whole World
Agnes Martin I Love the Whole World 1999
Happy Holiday
Agnes Martin Happy Holiday 1999
Faraway Love
Agnes Martin Faraway Love 1999
Untitled #5
Agnes Martin Untitled #5 1994
Untitled #10
Agnes Martin Untitled #10 1995

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Agnes Martin On a Clear Day 1973

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