self built wood cabin of artist Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin lived an extraordinary life, was a schizophrenic buddhist and one of the most forefront artists of her day.  After building a career in New York she would disappear, only to reappear in New Mexico and hand build two simple homes, the first made of adobe bricks that she cast herself and the second a log cabin using timber from the trees that she single-handedly fell.  Here’s her remarkable story…

agnes roof 2The fabulous photo above is of Agnes Martin on the rooftop of her New York studio with Ellsworth Kelly (left) and Jack Youngerman.

But she began her career as an artist in Taos, New Mexico. Here she is in her studio on Ledoux Street, Taos in 1953…

 

agnes studio 1953

 Above: photo by Mildred Tolbert

Four years on from this photo in 1957 and aged 45 Agnes was discovered by the New York gallerist and art dealer Betty Parsons. Betty persuaded Agnes to move to NYC and join the other artists she represented including Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. Agnes agreed and found a studio in an area known as Coenties Slip, also home to Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana, James Rosenquist and Jack Youngerman. The studios were by the East River in old sailmaking factories that had once made sails for wooden ships when the area was a port.

Here is Agnes again on the roof of Coenties Slip with Robert Indiana (kneeling), Youngerman (sitting), Ellsworth Kelly (standing) and Delphine Seyrig…

 

agnes roof 1

 

And with Ellsworth Kelly in his studio in 1957…

 

om pom agnes martin Ellsworth kellys studio nyc 1957

 

And painting in her own studio in 1960…

 

om pom agnes martin working in her studio 1960

 

Agnes’ early works were mostly six foot square…

 

om pom agnes-martins-9

 

om pom agnes martin 2

 

This photo below was taken by Diane Arbus and shows Agnes in her studio in 1966…

 

om pom agnes martin by diane arbus 1966

 

A year later, in 1967, Agnes left New York, coinciding with the ending of her relationship with the Greek sculptor Chyssa and the death of her friend the artist Ad Reinhardt. She gave away all her art materials, bought a camper van with money from a grant she’d just won and left New York.  Decades later she said, “I left New York because every day I suddenly felt I wanted to die and it was connected with painting. It took me several years to find out that the cause was an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.”

No one is sure where she initially went, but in 1968, at the age of 56, she rented a remote plot of land in New Mexico and single-handedly built a one room dwelling from adobe bricks (she made the bricks), followed by a log cabin which she again built herself including felling the trees.  She lived a frugal existence owning very little and had no electricity or neighbours.

 

om pom agnes martin studio 6

 

But in 1971 she began to paint again. Here she is outside her home and studio in 1974…

 

agnes martin 002

 

When she had several pieces she was happy with she travelled to New York to ask her friend Arne Glimcher if he would show her new paintings. He came to New Mexico to see them and here he is in Agnes’ studio looking at them in 1977…

 

om pom agnes martin Arne Glimcher in Agnes's studio Cuba 1977

And this is Agnes at that same time 1977…

 

om pom agnes martin Taos 1977

 

216B-041-006 AGNES MARTIN

 

om pom agnes-martin portrait

 

Agnes remained in New Mexico for the rest of her life…

 

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om pom agnes martin 15

Agnes Martin. 216B-065-087 Gallistea, NM, USA 1992 Vogue. November 1992. pp. 307 “The entry to the artist’s compound near Santa Fe.”

 

This is Agnes in 1992…

 

Agnes Martin. 216B-012-002 Gallistea, NM, USA 1992

 

om pom agnes-martin in studio 2

 

om pom agnes martin studio 4

 

om pom agnes martin portrait by annie leibovitz

Above: a portrait of Agnes by Annie Liebowitz

 

Agnes continued to paint right up until her death in 2004 aged 92.

om pom agnes martin painting

 

om pom agnes martin 1

 

I’ll leave you with a short but wonderful piece of Cuban music made at the time that Agnes moved there, by the fabulous Leo Brouwer…

words: CAND JUSKUS

images: sourced online