American, born Canada, 1912–2004
The Tree, 1965
Acrylic and graphite on canvas
72 x 72 inches (182.9 x 182.9 cm)
Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1976
When asked how viewers should respond to works like The Tree, Agnes Martin compared the experience to looking at the ocean: “You just go there and sit and look.” One of the things thoughtful observation will reveal is Martin’s creation process, which required a great deal of time and patience. She began with a light layer of acrylic paint, then drew each line carefully with graphite. The composition is regular and ordered, but not completely uniform. Martin said she created her paintings in a kind of meditative state, and that her process was akin to enlightenment. Meditation requires clearing one’s mind and entering another plane of psychological space, which relates to a stated goal for her work: “My paintings have neither objects, nor space, nor time, not anything—no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness.” These ideas call to mind Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, in which simple, grid-like drawings are sometimes used as aids to meditation. Grids are suitable for this purpose because of their regularity, stability, and lack of narrative or reference. The link between the grid and a tree came, Martin explained, in this way: “I asked myself why do I like trees so much and this grid came as a visual image in my mind. After I had finished it I recognized it as representing the innocence of a tree. Later in my untitled work most of my paintings are about innocence.”
Related Lesson Plan
Meditative Drawings (For Grades 6–12)
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