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Nancy Princenthal - Agnes Martin Her Life and Art

I am reading a biography about Agnes Martin, the american artist, who spent so many years in or close to Taos. I started reading it, shortly before I departed for New Mexico last August. That said, it is obviously, that it takes me an awful long time, to finish the book. So, this morning, I started to wonder, why that was the case, and the first answer was: this book is demanding. You can not just read it. It often reads like a scientists paper in art history. Many informations on places, she lived, the artists and circles, whom one could encounter there, pages and pages of  descripitions of her paintings, which I would rather expect from a catalogue of a workshow, not from a biography. The book is often filled with knowledge, which did not help me personally, to understand Agnes Martin. Fact is: she grew more and more distant. Constructions considering her mental illness (schicophrenia), which probably are researched impeccably, but still, the artist remained distant, like somebody without feelings. It all read like theory. No life in this. Maybe, this has to do with her shyness. She did'nt leave much for biographers to search through. 
Yesterday evening though, I read the part about Agnes Martins own writing (she always wrote by hand, because she preferred a quiet and a very simple life, and a typewriter would have been noisy). I found this one sentence, which totally touched me, to which I absolutely could relate:

 „Now I am very clear, 
that the object is freedom.“

I immediately knew two things: 1. that I really want to read Agnes Martins own writing and 2, that this was a very deep insight, which also is true for my own writing, actually, for my life, in general. 

„Now I am very clear, 
that the object is freedom.“

My own writing, my own life, has always been about freedom, to one day be able (attention: IDEAL!) to live and write, which is one and the same thing for me, really,  completely out of this freedom. This vast space, in which the truth reveals itself to me constantly. The truth of the next step to be taken, the next book to be read, the next sentence to be said......
Freedom from feelings and stories past, which turn us into prisoners, unconscious. Freedom from feelings and stories present, which still turn us into prisoners, unconscious of what we do, why we do it and who we are. No involvement. In order to be able to live and write in this area of freedom, which is inside, as well as outside, the ocean, the desert Namib, the Mesa near Taos, meditation, to live clearly and consciously, to write clearly and consciously.
Three years ago, my mother has died. What I remember most from those days, I spent with her at the hospital, was this freedom, this vast space. For hours, I was sitting with her, quiet, I shared a room with her, in which all involvement was gone. Freedom. Clarity. Back then, I often thought: death is not all bad, because the ego dies first, I mean, in the good cases, in the ideal cases, and all involvement stops, which probably is the ultimate in liberation ---- if you can refrain from fighting. Frankly, who can refrain from fighting pain and fear?

I want to finish this book. Although I find it, apart from this one deep moment, not engaging. I remember a biography about Georgia O’Keeffe, written by Roxana Robinson. I could not get enough of it. I read all night long, which was fantastic, because that night, I was on a train from Chicago to Santa Fe. I was on my way to Ghost Ranch, Georgia O'Keeffes home, to attend a writing workshop. But that was not the reason for this book being so engaging. It was the way it was written, the way, it told stories. I even reread it once. Robinson brought Georgia O'Keeffe absolutely alive. I, the reader, totally connected with O'Keeffe, while Agnes Martin, who I believe, is on many levels much closer to my inner world, somebody, I just knew, I would connect with, after once seeing this video, remains totally distant. She seems more distant after the read, than ever before. Which is a shame. 
I know, Agnes Martins character was quite different from O'Keeffes. She was more withdrawn. maybe not as vain, and it was probably much more difficult, to puzzle her life and being together, to catch it into some written form. But maybe, just a suggestion, some biographies should not be written? Maybe, she, Agnes Martin, would not have liked it either? 
I really want to read her own writings now, and can not wait for an exhibition of her art so nearby, hopefully sometime soon, so I can indulge in her grids and paintings, which I do love. Because I always saw in them this:

"Now I am very clear,
that the object is freedom."


For now, I will be off to Vienna on Friday, to see this exhibition of Georgia O'Keeffes work. I have been to Ghost Ranch, and I have seen some of Martins paintings in Taos, but to see a whole, big exhibition --- can't wait. 

(c) Susanne Becker

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