I am writing about Agnes Martin because her work approaches me initially where I think I live, a place of attained quietness through years of meditation. Yet, this presumption of kinship eludes me because my own work and mind are shaped by a noisy compaction.
In Nancy Princenthal’s recent book “Agnes Martin Her Life and Art” she writes that when asked, Martin avowed over and over that her work is about “happiness” and “innocence”. Despite reading about her often intense life, I believe this because this is what the paintings feel like to me – a taut , austere, peacefulness with a mind and hand fully committed to the voice of the painting. If luminosity is happiness then this is what happens. Her work makes you want to sit in front of it and relax the inner mind, as if the mind is sitting in a chair with a cup of tea looking at the ocean and its imponderables.
So, did she make this work so that her life would be as peaceful as possible, controlled within the bounds of the painting? We know she suffered periodically from schizophrenia and, earlier in her life, was a restless wanderer. Also the book reveals that Martin rarely read or engaged with contemporary events . She made herself a routine transcendent cave in New Mexico and her work comes from there.
How do we artists make our work with ingredients of personality and time and place? I live and work in NYC/ Brooklyn where we are surrounded with a plethora of exhibits and talks and writings on art. It is stimulating and enriching. But many of us feel the need for the renunciation of this world when we make our own art. There is such a desire to contribute to the contemporary field of artmaking, to matter, to be meaningful… that we can over-research, over–look, and get pulled from our personal private orbits.
I, myself, am an introvert and can’t even bear to get the daily mail as it bears too much information. My father was schizophrenic and my childhood had turbulence. But I don’t think I look to my work to be peaceful in contrast or solace… it is more about the inner often complex poetic mind. (“I like a look of agony because I know it’s true.” E. Dickinson) A mind, a heart that is inward. (As Rilke says “What is Inwardness?”) It is a mind of inner theatricality with layered voices speaking to each other. So, with some regret, this sounds so silly, but with some regret I am not of the emotional geography of Agnes Martin… I am able to stay inward because my work can speak for me. It is about language.
Lesley Dill, Faith and the Devil, Installation.
Big Gal Faith (front), 2012, Oil pastel on fabric, 7.6 x 10 x 20 feet
Drunk with the Great Starry Void (back), 2012, Oil pastel on fabric, 8.6 x 30.3 feet
Lesley Dill lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She explore themes of language, the body, and transformational experience through sculpture, photography and performance. www.lesleydill.net