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Agnes Martin

Her Life and Art

Nancy Princenthal


Winner of the PEN Award for Biography 2016, this is the only biography of visionary artist Agnes Martin, one of the most original and influential painters of the postwar period


Over the course of a career that spanned fifty years, Agnes Martin’s austere, serene work anticipated and helped to define Minimalism, even as she battled psychological crises and carved out a solitary existence in the American Southwest. ‘I paint with my back to the world’, she claimed; when she died at ninety-two, in Taos, New Mexico, it is said she had not read a newspaper in half a century.

Here, newly available in paperback, is an account of Martin’s extraordinary life and a critical discussion of her work. Nancy Princenthal tells her story chronologically – from Martin’s birth in Saskatchewan and her early days as an artist, living in derelict Manhattan shipping lofts with Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Ad Reinhardt and other artists as neighbours; to the seven years she stopped painting, just as her career was taking off, and the months she spent roaming the country in a pick-up truck; and her last thirty years, in Taos some of that time, in an adobe house she built with her own hands. Martin did not achieve recognition until she was in her late forties. Her work – pencilled grids on square canvases, washed with pale or neutral colours – at last receives the critical appraisal it deserves.

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'Thorough and illuminating'
Apollo (Shortlisted for Book of the Year)

'Scholarly, thoroughly researched … an accessible and fascinating story'

'Doggedly researched and gracefully written… [Princenthal] shines in describing Martin’s earthy good humour and dedication to her art and in capturing the atmosphere in which the artist came of age … it will remain definitive for a good long while'
Wall Street Journal

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback

Edition Type: New Format

Size: 24.0 x 16.5 cm

Extent: 320 pp

Illustrations: 38

Publication date: 8 November 2018

ISBN: 9780500294550

Contents List

Introduction: Abstraction • 1. Northwest Passages • 2. Student/Teacher • 3. Reaching Harbor • 4. Lines of Thought • 5. As Shown • 6. Silence • 7. Departures • 8. Back to the World • 9. Contours Redrawn • Epilogue: Composure

About the Author

Nancy Princenthal is a New York-based writer. A former senior editor of Art in America, where she remains a contributing editor, she has also written for the New York Times, Parkett, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She is currently on the faculty of the MFA art writing program at the School of Visual Arts. Her previous book, Agnes Martin, won 2016 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld award for biography.