Agnes Martin (b.1912)
signed 'a. martin' (on the reverse)
oil and graphite on canvas
50 x 50 in. (127 x 127 cm.)
Painted circa 1960.
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
Pace Wildenstein, New York

Lot Essay

Agnes Martin's Buds, circa 1960 bears witness to the important transition in her work as she moved away from floating biomorphic forms to tightly controlled geometric compositions in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This shift emphasized the frontality, formality and balance in her art, alluding to the powerful spirituality that influenced her. These mature works are defined by square formats, grids or lines drawn on canvas, and often near monochromatic color palettes infused with subtle variations of hue. Martin searches for the sublime to prove the paradigm of earthly perfection and simplicity as vehicles for spiritual contemplation.

The title of this geometrically organized picture, Buds, attests to Martin's persistent engagement with themes of the organic world, albeit in an abstract manner. Martin hopes that being a part of nature and its rhythms will result in a complete abandonment of ego. The arrangement of forms in Buds is reminiscent of the geometric rows of wheat Martin grew up with in Canada's agricultural heartland. "The circles laid in rows over diaphanous washes, symbolize growing things, or as in one painting, buds" ("Art Drawn from Nature: Agnes Martin's paintings at Section 11 Gallery Reflect Love of Prairies," The New York Times, December 29, 1959, p. 23).

As an artist, Martin believes her task is to enable the viewer to see the perfection, beauty, sublimity and happiness within life. These qualities serve as the subject matter of her work, which celebrates abstract emotions and conveys the incredible power of nature. According to Martin, "The miracle of existence (occurs) when we recognize perfection in beauty" (quoted in B. Haskell, Agnes Martin, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1992, p. 93).

Buds, composed of rows of circles imposed on an ebbing background, reflects the humility Martin emphasized in her writings. It is a delicate painting reduced to its most basic elements in order to encourage the perception of perfection and Martin's pursuit of transcendental beauty.

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