Getting Agnes Martin

A gentle rain punctuates the morning as I set off for the Harwood Museum of Art on historic LeDoux Street in Taos, New Mexico. I came to sit and to be there in the Agnes Martin Gallery. For some of the time I lived in Colorado, I’d make the trip to this gallery two or three times a year. Being in that gallery among Agnes Martin’s paintings invokes a deep, spiritual experience. You get it or you don’t. You’ll want to get it.

AM 8

Agnes Martin in her studio on LeDoux Street, 1953. Photo by Mildred Tolbert.

Agnes Martin (1912-2004), known as an abstract expressionist, rejected the minimalist label some sought for her. Her artistic goals were about expressing emotional content rather than ideas. I don’t know how she did it, but she did it. Get into her paintings and they’ll show you the grid that life is built on and let you walk the tightrope inside the head of the universe. Agnes Martin is beyond genius.

Soon I’m on LeDoux Street, then in the parking lot, and then inside the museum. It’s early, and I am the only visitor here so far. Maybe I’ll have the gallery all to myself. I close my umbrella and park it on the coat rack near the entrance and walk across the corridor.

I pause at the entrance of the octagon-shaped gallery. The doorway, the opening to this sacred space, takes up most of an entire wall. Each of the remaining seven white walls is the permanent home to one of the 5′ x 5′ “grid” paintings. The light wood planks of the hardwood floor run horizontally, and the room is white, bare except for four

AM Gallery Photo by Tina Larkin

The Agnes Martin Gallery in the Hardwood Museum of Art. Photo by Tina Larkin.

wooden yellow benches that are usually clustered in the center beneath an oculus at the peak of the vaulted ceiling in the middle of the room. But not today. Today they are scattered throughout the room. I discover they’re not heavy and slide easily, so I position them directly beneath the oculus–in the heart of the action–making one large bench of it.

I walk the room, stopping at each canvas, taking in the light blue and white paint of each, noticing the delicate graphite lines, nearly imperceptible yet playing a major role in what is about to happen. Each canvas seems as simple as its title, but there is much more to these paintings than what you see. And this is why I’m here, for what you don’t see.

AM Lovely Life

Lovely Life, by Agnes Martin

I move back to the benches. The rain outside continues, and I look up through the oculus. Today no sunlight drenches the room–only the sight of gray skies and large raindrops. I sit cross-legged on the bench and close my eyes.

The paintings surround me, wrap their presence around me from all directions. Even the gray skies and rain beating on the oculus join in the energy bath, bombarding me with how right and miraculous and beautiful it all is. I am the hub, the center of the universe.

The paintings are about the many forms of life and love.

AM Friendship

Friendship, by Agnes Martin

Their titles —

                   Lovely Life
                   Perfect Day
                   Ordinary Happiness

All convey the exquisite energies of life.

AM Perfect Day

Perfect Day, by Agnes Martin

Today the tone-on-tone variations of the blues and whites in the paintings are the eyes of the many ancestors who came before me. They see me, they watch me, they watch me watching them. The purity of white–the color of angels and gods–and the peaceful, calming, and serene quality of blue tenderly and invisibly bombards me with feelings of stability and security while the graphite lines define the course on which the energy travels. And all lines lead to me, sitting meditatively in the center of the room, accepting all of it, grateful for it, recharged by it, hoping to give some of it back.

This is how you “get” Agnes Martin’s paintings. You don’t study, you don’t think. You sit and you feel. You let the artwork bring their gifts and secrets to you. You marinate in it, absorb the love, and then you cycle it back. You are the focal point of existence.

AM 2

I continue to sit. I don’t know how long. A long time. I soak up the beautiful energy offered by these paintings. I expected tears to come. I expected I would cry long and hard, like I’ve done before, but I seem to be fresh out of tears today. I simply sit and bathe in the colors, the light, the energy from the paintings entering from all directions of consciousness.

Finally, I open my eyes and look up through the oculus. The sky has turned blue. The rain has stopped.


A day in the life of the Agnes Martin Gallery:


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