b. 1912, Maklin, Saskatchewan, Canada; d. 2004, Taos, New Mexico
Agnes Martin was born March 22, 1912, in Maklin, Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. She came to the United States in 1932 and lived in Washington and Oregon until 1940. Martin studied at Western Washington State College, Bellingham, the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and received her B.S. and M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. She taught at public schools in Washington, Delaware, and New Mexico during the late 1930s and the 1940s, at the University of New Mexico in the late 1940s, and at Eastern Oregon College, La Grande, in 1952–53. She became a United States citizen in 1950.
Martin lived and taught periodically in New York in the 1940s and early 1950s. In 1957, she settled in Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan, where her friends and neighbors included Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jack Youngerman. In 1958, her first solo show took place at Section Eleven of the Betty Parsons Gallery, New York. By the late 1950s, Martin’s landscape and figurative watercolors, surrealistic oils, and three-dimensional sculptural objects were supplanted by her highly simplified abstractions. These mature works, distinguished by square formats, grids, or lines drawn on canvas and monochromatic color with subtle variations in hue, have been an important influence on younger artists.
After Martin left New York and moved to Cuba, New Mexico, in 1967, she did not paint for seven years. However, in 1974, she completed a group of new paintings and since 1975 has exhibited regularly. In a number of these works, Martin replaced neutral tones with brighter color. In 1973, an exhibition of her work dating from 1957 to 1967 was organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and traveled to the Pasadena Art Museum.