Sharon Phelps

Agnes Martin: Painting as making and its relation to contemporary practice

Chelsea College of Arts

Existing writing about Agnes Martin has paid little attention to the importance of her constructions at the end of the 1950s. Martin made abstract compositions using materials that she found close to her studio in the Coenties Slip seaport area of New York around 1958. For a short time in the early 1960s she incorporated nails into her grid paintings. One aim for my project is to find the relation between that part of her practice and recent art practice that is between painting and sculpture, and which is testing the limits of painting now.

My second aim is to investigate how Martin’s methods for making constructions and paintings around 1958-1962 can still be used in a present-day context to make new and original artworks. By re-enacting her methods in my practice, I am able to discover different ways of making and presentation, to show how her methods can generate new art work.

To gain a fresh perspective outside the context of minimal art in which Martin’s paintings are often seen, I examine objects and structures made in Latin America around 1960.  Martin’s constructions are compared with Brazilian artist Lygia Clark’s Bichos;hingedmetal geometric planes which were intended for active participation by the viewer. They are also contrasted with modular structures made by Venezuelan artist Gego. My study includes a selection of contemporary artists who can be seen to be making artwork at the limits of painting, and who are also able to give fresh insights into Martin’s working methods.