In 1967, Agnes Martin left New York City, where she had been living for a decade. She traveled for two years in Canada and the American West before settling on a remote New Mexican mesa, building a house by hand, and living in relative isolation for the remainder of her years. She made no art until 1973, when she completed On a Clear Day, a monumental suite of 30 orthogonal grids that were shortly thereafter shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It was only after completing the series that she erected a studio and got back to painting. Contributory, if not more exactly causal, in both cases was Ad Reinhardt: Just as his death immediately before her decampment suggested the unsuitability of continued habitation in this place, his work allowed Martin to resume her own. When Robert Feldman pursued Martin in 1971 in the hopes of commissioning etchings, she initially refused the invitation, later consenting on the condition that she produce screenprints instead. Martin cited Reinhardt’s utilization of the medium (as exemplified by his Wadsworth Atheneum prints from 1966) as precedent. Thus was On a Clear Day achieved. Although Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman were idols, Martin, in the onanistic tradition they did so much to establish, refused a genealogy that implied influence, which makes her naming the authority of Reinhardt all the more surprising. Friendship, materialized, becomes a form of habituation to life.
SUZANNE HUDSON is an art historian and critic who lives in Los Angeles.