Clouds: Perhaps Agnes Martin’s paintings are like clouds?

grid: graphite and pink pencil on parchment 2012Clouds

The number of forms which clouds may take is almost infinite, but for purposes of description it is necessary to adopt some kind of classification, though whatever classification is used there must at times be border-line cases when a cloud seems to fall half-way between two classes and perhaps belong to neither.

The systems of classification which have been proposed have sometimes been based on the observed appearance of the cloud and at other times on the supposed method of formation.  There can be no doubt that the former is the correct method since an observer is able to judge definitely of the appearance while the method of formation of a given cloud must be to some extent a matter of opinion.

The Meteorological Glossary, Air Ministry Meteorological Office, 2nd edition, 1930

I have been looking at Agnes Martin’s paintings.  They are similar in a way to clouds: her paintings are delicate with diffused colour.  Although there is a guiding principle in their creation, they cannot be the same as each other.  It is true that she drew horizontal lines or grids, but they are not rigid geometric forms.  The pencil lines are lightly drawn across the canvas and are broken by the uneven surface.

The paintings are light – very light.  They are so light that it is hard to capture them in a photograph.  The paint is brushed thinly in lots of pale brushstrokes, which gives a dappled effect.  Or, there are washes of uneven translucent paint.  Agnes Martin painted the bands of colour in a vertical position on the canvas and then turned the painting so that the bands were horizontal.

The colours are not quite contained within the pencil lines.  Sometimes they spill over slightly and often the lines do not quite reach the edge of the canvas.  The lines frame the delicate colours and hold the thin washes in rhythmic bands.  Early grid paintings of the 1960s have a denser mesh of lines.  Later paintings of the eighties and nineties by comparison are more open with a lot of space between the lines.

I recently drew a small grid in graphite pencil on translucent parchment and then drew over it carefully with a pale pink pencil.  The pink lines did not always cover the grey graphite lines, and the pink was not easily visible when it was on the grey lines.  It was intermittent.  Then I went to see Agnes Martin’s painting Morning (1965), and there were grey pencil lines drawn in a grid format with pink pencil lines in the same irregular way, the same intermittent colour.

This grid was a six foot square painting.  Seen on this scale, the mesh of pencil lines formed a soft haze.  Perhaps Agnes Martin’s paintings are like clouds?

Pale   Thin   Vaporous

Striated

Dappled

Haze

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