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Hampshire Cultural Trust brings one of America's greatest Abstract Expressionists to Winchester
Happy Holiday © Agnes Martin.

WINCHESTER.- ARTIST ROOMS: Agnes Martin at The Gallery, Winchester’s Discovery Centre presents a selection of six key paintings, characterised by subtle pencil lines and pale washes of colour, which demonstrate her exquisite handling of paint. Colours appear to project beyond the picture plane to engage all the senses. Happy Holiday (left) and Faraway Love come from a sequence of paintings from the late 1990s, the titles of which reference states of euphoria, contentment and memories of past happiness.

This exhibition draws from ARTIST ROOMS, a collection of over 1,600 works of modern and contemporary art by more than 40 major international artists. The collection is jointly owned and managed by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland, and is displayed across the UK through a touring programme of solo exhibitions, supported by Arts Council England, Art Fund and Creative Scotland. ARTIST ROOMS: Agnes Martin is Hampshire Cultural Trust’s first participation in this national programme.

Agnes Martin (1912 – 2004) was one of America’s foremost abstract painters. Known for her square canvases with their restrained, meticulously rendered grids and repeat stripes, her style was underpinned by her deep belief in the emotive and expressive power of art. Visitors to the exhibition will experience Martin’s paintings and the influence landscape had upon the development of her work.

“One time, I was coming out of the mountains and having painted the mountains, I came out on this plain, and I thought, ‘Ah! What a relief!’ (This was just outside of Tulsa.) I thought, ‘This is for me!’ The expansiveness of it. I sort of surrendered. This plain… it was just like a straight line. It was a horizontal line. And I thought there wasn’t a line that affected me like a horizontal line. Then, I found that the more I drew that line, the happier I got. First I thought it was like the sea … then, I thought it was like singing! Well, I just went to town on this horizontal line.” [Could this quote be edited down?]

Martin’s career spanned five decades, during which she achieved fame and success as one her country’s foremost painters. Her peers and contemporaries included key figures of abstract expressionism and minimalism including Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Sol LeWitt, and Ad Reinhardt. In a long life Martin was, amongst other things, an Olympic-standard swimmer, tennis coach, farm hand, ice-cream packer, receptionist, waitress, short-order cook and teacher. Her artwork is exceptional in its peacefulness and clarity of vision, a fact made perhaps all the more remarkable considering the mental health challenges she experienced throughout her life.

On a Clear Day 1973, a series of thirty screen prints, is presented here in Winchester, and is the work that marked Martin’s return to making art after a five-year hiatus. In 1967 Martin had left New York and sought solitude in the wake of a succession of life events and continuing difficulties with her mental health. She settled in Taos, New Mexico, living alone and without modern conveniences. Her life in the desert can be seen as an attempt to strip away everything unnecessary. She considered her paintings to be “about freedom from the cares of this world, from worldliness,” and she lived her life accordingly. Grids and lines allowed Martin to create paintings which were without intellectual content or reference but were reaching for an emotional connection. Eschewing perceptual space, brushwork, composition and texture, they were self-descriptive and self-referential in a way that clearly represented a new beginning for painting at that time.

Sister Wendy Beckett, in her book American Masterpieces, said of Martin: "Agnes Martin often speaks of joy; she sees it as the desired condition of all life. Who would disagree with her? No-one who has seriously spent time before an Agnes Martin painting, letting its peace communicate itself, receiving its inexplicable and ineffable happiness, has ever been disappointed. The work awes, not just with its delicacy, but with its vigour, and this power and visual interest is something that has to be experienced."

Janet Owen, Chief Executive of Hampshire Cultural Trust, says: “We are delighted to be able to shine a spotlight on the work of such a truly remarkable woman as Agnes Martin, and provide visitors with a thought-provoking glimpse into a rare vision and lasting legacy.”

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