Agnes Martin: Two New Portraits of a Complicated Life

By Janet Webb—June 23, 2016

Internationally-recognized artist Agnes Martin’s life and career is closely tied to Taos, New Mexico.

She lived in Taos in the 1940s and ’50s, working side by side with expats from the East Coast modernist and abstract expressionist movements. She returned again in 1993 after a decade in New York City, years on the road, and solitary creative time in Galisteo and Cuba, New Mexico. Before she died in Taos in 2004, Martin donated seven paintings—and funds to build a permanent gallery in which to show them — to the Harwood Museum of Art of the University of New Mexico. This gallery has become a quiet sanctuary and pilgrimage destination for Agnes Martin collectors from across the globe.

The Agnes Martin Gallery,
The Agnes Martin Gallery, Harwood Museum of Art Taos

This summer in Taos, followers of Agnes Martin’s art will have a chance to learn more about the exceptionally private artist herself. Two recent explorations of Martin’s life shed new light on the Taos legend through stories told by those close to her.

Donald Woodman’s book, Agnes

Filmmaker Kathleen Brennan and author/photographer Donald Woodman
Filmmaker Kathleen Brennan and author/photographer Donald Woodman on their first meeting, at the SOMOS Salon in May 2016. Photo by Janet Webb.

Martin and Me, and a new documentary film by Kathleen Brennan and Jina Brenneman, Agnes Martin Before the Grid, each show a little-known side of the mythical artist.

It is both timely and appropriate that the Harwood Museum be site of one of Donald Woodman’s first public discussions of the recently published memoir of his time spent in the company of Ms Martin. Agnes Martin and Me (Lyon Art Books; May 2016; trade paperback; $18.95) is Woodman’s account of seven rollercoaster years, 1977 to 1984, during which the two were in constant contact with each other.

The discussion, slide show, and book signing is cosponsored by SOMOS, the Literary Society of Taos, and the Harwood Museum. It will be held in the Arthur Bell Auditorium on July 20, 2016 at 7:00pm. Woodman will be introduced by filmmaker Kathleen Brennan, who is currently completing a documentary film, Agnes Martin Before the Grid, which is scheduled to debut on September 15, 2016 at Taos Community Auditorium.

About Agnes Martin and Me, the book

agnes Martin
Agnes Martin photographed by Donald Woodman

Throughout this book, a new portrait of Agnes Martin is painted – one very different from what has been written about her art and personal life. Woodman replaces the oracular metaphysics and Zen-inflected edicts with that of a maddening, self-centered, needy, and abusive, if brilliant, artist suffering from mental illness and in denial about her sexuality. From their first meeting where Martin admits that ‘the voices’ told her that their lives were to intersect, he recounts what she did and what she said over their long, alternating cycles of dependence on one another.

“At the heart of Agnes Martin and Me is the 1978 misguided and dangerous river excursion through the Northwest Territories of Canada that was a lifelong dream of Martin’s and on which Woodman embarked as her keeper, guide, and companion. Upon returning from this trip, the two coexisted on a plot of land owned by Woodman in Galisteo, New Mexico, where her cycles of depression, spitefulness, genius, and eventually incapacitation from schizophrenia were played out before Woodman’s eyes.

“Complemented by Woodman’s remarkable photographs and Martin’s handwritten notes to him, Agnes Martin and Me reveals a missing chapter of the life of this long misunderstood and complicated figure in contemporary American art.”—From supplied press release

Read a book review in Interview Magazine.

About the Author, Donald Woodman
Photographer Donald Woodman began his career as an assistant to architectural photographer Ezra Stoller and subsequently studied with and assisted Minor White at MIT, where Woodman directed the Creative Photography Lab’s gallery. In 1972, he settled in New Mexico, where he worked for five years at the Sacramento Peak Solar Observatory, doing scientific photography and pursuing personal creative photo projects. In 1977, he met reclusive painter Agnes Martin, beginning a seven-year association, sharing with her his property in Galisteo, New Mexico, and serving as her personal assistant. In 1985, Woodman married the renowned feminist artist Judy Chicago, with whom he has collaborated on many art and educational projects.

Woodman’s work, while grounded in 20th century modernist photographic techniques, fuses this tradition with digital photography to create individualistic images on a range of subjects. His photographs have been exhibited both nationally and internationally and are included in numerous collections. He lives with Chicago in Belen, New Mexico. See

About Agnes Martin Before the Grid, the film
The documentary captures little-known stories of Agnes Martin’s life prior to 1967 when she left New York City. Shared by friends, lovers, and classmates who knew her well, these oral history interviews give insight into Martin’s personality and the development of her creative process.

The film runtime is 54 minutes. Sponsored by New Mexico Foundation for Human Enrichment. See

About the directors of Agnes Martin Before the Grid
Kathleen Brennan is a multidisciplinary artist with an extensive background in photography and video.  Her video work has focused on documenting and preserving cultural traditions and the stories that gather around particular places. Brennan knew Agnes Martin well and has a passion for her art and beliefs. She lives and works in Taos, New Mexico

Jina Brenneman is an artist and curator living and working in Denver, Colorado. She is former Curator and Exhibitions Director of the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. During her tenure, she researched and created the museum’s show Agnes Martin Before the Grid. It was the first major show of Martin’s early work. As a result, she and Brennan joined forces to create the documentary film of the same title. Brenneman is co-producer, researcher and scholar behind the film.

In a nutshell
Agnes Martin and Me
Donald Woodman, discussion and reading
A SOMOS Summer Writers Series event
Wednesday, July 20, 2016, 7:00pm
Harwood Museum of Art
238 Ledoux Street, Taos NM 87571

Agnes Martin Before the Grid
Screening and Q&A with the filmmakers
Thursday, September 15, 2016, 7:00pm
Taos Community Auditorium
145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos NM

Harwood Museum of Art
SOMOS, the Literary Society of Taos
Taos Center for the Arts

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