Saturday, December 3, 2011

"What you do is get rid of everything," Agnes Martin wrote

and then she said:
"If you live by inspiration then you do what comes to you ....
you can't live the inspired life and live the conventions
you can't make promises
The future's a blank page
I pretended I was looking at the blank page
I used to look in my mind for the unwritten page
if my mind was empty enough I could see it
I didn't paint the plane
I just drew this horizontal line
Then I found out about all the other lines
But I realized what I liked was the horizontal line ..."  from Agnes Martin: Writings, ed. Hatje Cantz

Agnes Martin's work needs to be seen. The Harwood Museum in Taos, New Mexico, arranged for a room to be built to house several (six? perhaps) Agnes Martin paintings. There is even a special nearly-circular bench in the center of the room for visitors to sit and see. I saw all this on a visit this summer.  The works seem very still, and quiet, and peaceful. Standing close to them, you can see the fine lines of Martin's pencil against her ruler, crossing the massive space of the canvas; from far away, they look like open air.  Here is a painting that might come across in reproduction, from 2001, called "Gratitude" (it is currently for sale at the Pace Gallery):

It is very spare, very faint, but it is definitively her own vision. She said that when she tried to make realistic paintings of the mountains and plains of New Mexico,  the forms looked tiny. These lines she makes are the ideal, she says: "A work of art is successful when there is a hint of perfection present -- at the slightest hint ... the work is alive" (Writings).  It would be difficult to be influenced by Martin without slavishly copying her. But, today we found someone who might be an heir.

Today we went to the ICB Artists' Winter Open Studios in Sausalito: 80 artists in one building (they continue tomorrow, and there is another set of Open Studios in the spring).  We met many generous and talented artists, and liked, in particular, the process series by Mary La Casse,  and Kristen Garneau's hayfields, the lit-from-within paintings of Asya Abdrahman and the abstract/bodies by The Artist Hines.  But our favorite paintings were by Brian Huber.  His current series is called "Follow the Line," and as he says on his website (, he is interested in "what lives on both sides of the line." He has been working on this grouping for two years; Huber takes a plastic sheet, paints it with acrylics, allows it to dry and then fastens it to a prepared black or white or gray canvas. He says he is fascinated by shadows, and the added folded or twisted sheeting, made into small knots or bundles, creates its own shadow on the work. Some of the works have their own light and shadow, from thick, then thin, brushwork, or from raised or scratched-into surfaces.  He will be showing at Stanford University's Art Spaces from December 9- February 2, 2012.  I should also say that his work clearly makes him very happy, and we left feeling the same way. Here is his "Fragments of Certainty," from 2011, and I think his work is as "alive" as even Agnes Martin could wish:

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