When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection.Agnes Martin
Today the term “minimalism” is in vogue as a description of a personal style or philosophy of life, and tips for enjoying a life where “less is more” abound on the interwebs. But art is life and life is art, and the term emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s to describe an art movement. The minimalists rejected the pretensions of the action painters and sought to find beauty in pure form, leaving no evidence of the artist’s hand or personality. The minimalist style is characterized by forms that are simple, usually geometrical, and devoid of any representational content and a pared-down color palette, often in primary colors or pure black and white.
Although she considered herself an abstract expressionist, Agnes Martin is better known as a pioneer of minimalist art. Martin described the painting as “a world without objects, without interruption…or obstacle. It is to accept the necessity of…going into a field of vision as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean.”
Agnes Martin gained recognition for her six-foot square canvases, covered from edge to edge with meticulously penciled grids and finished with a thin layer of gesso. Typically, the minimalist style of abstract painting is characterized by simplicity and purity and is devoid of personal expression.
However, Martin’s focused pursuit charted new terrain that lay outside of both the broad gestural vocabulary of abstract expressionism and the systematic repetitions of minimalism. If you are interested in Agnes Martin, I’d recommend the excellent essay by Joanna Weber. Weber beautifully describes how Martin achieves the beautiful purity of a minimalist composition while also leaving sublime traces of the artist’s hand.
Here we can see the mark of her hand even at a distance; the lines have a softness, because Martin worked quickly to avoid drips in the fast-drying paint. Despite an apparently constrained format, the undeniable hand of the artist, in pencil or in paint, is one of the most poignant aspects of her work. Having seen one of her works, one longs to see others. Paintings of squares have never seemed so alive.Joanna Weber, The House that Agnes Martin Built
A Chicago-based artist, Kim Knoll works in the tradition of Agnes Martin. Like Martin, Knoll has one foot in the city and the other in nature. Martin split her working life between New York City and the artist community of Taos, New Mexico. Knoll lives and works in Chicago but is inspired by her forays into nature. She says, “Being surrounded by the buzz of city life makes me seek out calm and stillness through painting. My work is an abstract interpretation of memories and moments from my time spent in nature exploring lakes, mountains, forests, and coastlines through hiking and camping.”
Knoll is influenced by minimalism, she simplifies what she sees down to its most basic form. Knoll says, “I paint from memory, thinking of specific moments or sights to guide each concept and inform the shapes, gestures, color, and composition.” Like Martin, however, there is charming evidence of the artist’s hand in Knoll’s work, going beyond the stiffness of the 1960s minimalism and bringing life to the artwork.
As an artist and graphic designer myself, I love that nature is the impetus for her work, and her compositions are elegant, simple and beautiful. She has a keen eye for balance and symmetry, and the minimal color palette is a worthy homage to the minimalist artists of the 20th century.