Beauty

I’ve been reading – re-reading – , ‘Agnes Martin: Writings’. Published by Cantz, the texts follow one another, the English version, and then a translation into German. The book feels perfect, its size and weight, and the smooth, coated surface of the pale grey cover. There is a photograph of Agnes sitting in a rocking chair in front of a painted canvas, or perhaps it’s a large drawing, a framed drawing, it’s difficult to be sure. She is wearing a white smock and her hands are folded in her lap. Her upward gaze, directed towards the camera lens, looks pensive and slightly bemused, she is wondering perhaps, what am I doing here, why have I agreed to this charade? Beneath the black and white photograph is a single word ‘Writings’, and beneath that the German word, ‘Schriften’.

Her writing style can seem awkward at times, with odd turns of phrase and a halting rhythm. Headings include, “What is real”, and “What we do not see if we do not see”. She says things like, “… we are struggling from death into life” and you think, fuck yeah, that’s a nice turnaround!  In “The untroubled mind” she writes about painting, and a kind of mindlessness she aims for when working. Somewhere else she says, “I used to meditate until I learned to stop thinking – now nothing goes through my mind.” She writes about beauty, and how it remains impervious to destruction; “We say the rose is beautiful, and when the rose is destroyed then we have lost something, so that beauty has been lost. When the rose is destroyed we grieve, but really beauty is unattached”.

Thinking about Agnes Martin I have no inclination to look at her paintings, at least not on the Internet or in books. To see them is a joy but they’re not images, they don’t translate visually beyond their physical selves. I like thinking about them, I like that they exist. She writes about solitude, “… people who like to be alone, who walk alone will perhaps be serious workers in the art field”. It’s odd in some ways, her preoccupation with solitude; isn’t making art a kind of communion with others? Her preoccupation with being alone – “I paint with my back to the world” – with classicism, and with perfection, can seem strange in our time of artworks concerned with contingency and the provisional. She exhorts artists to give up the company of others, and even of pets! But that’s never going to wash around here.

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