The Innocence of Trees

[Note: Recently I went in search of a particular post on Slow Muse from several years ago. In the process I found so many others that dealt with topics that are still, all these years later, speaking to me. So I have decided to start a recycling series. From time to time I'll share content that is still bouncing around in me, still offering its own kind of inspiration. This first one originally appeared in January 2007.]

From Agnes Martin:

My interest is in experience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this experience can be expressed for me in artwork which is also wordless and silent.


Agnes Martin, portrait by Charles R. Rushton

Martin also talks about how she first began using the grid in her work:

When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then a grid came into my mind and I thought it represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied. I thought, this is my vision.


The Tree, by Agnes Martin

Martin’s work exudes a quiet humility and a transcendent, uncomplicated purity. The power that exists in her paintings is tangible yet rarefied. When the Whitney Museum mounted a Martin retrospective a few years ago, it ran concurrently with a show of work by Basquiat. People in his exhibit were engaged in lively discussions of Basquiat’s larger-than-life iconography and wild-handed expressionism. Two flights down, in the Martin exhibit, there was no gaggling or chatter. People wandering in fell silent as if on cue, respectful of the sepulchral reverence that had been created by her subtle and evocative work. Sitting “wordless and silent” amid those paintings was full immersion Martin.

I have thought about her line, the innocence of trees, many times. Her equating of the grid with innocence is still an idea that I find poetic and provocative—I don’t speak grid in my own work—but I do feel its fulfillment in the delicate armatures of graphite in her paintings. The large hearted innocence of nature, and of trees, just may be the delicate armatures of our existence. Like her grids, they require close viewing to capture fully. And, like her work, they call for a moment of wordless silence.

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4 comments

  1. Diane McGregor’s avatar

    Thank you for recycling this post – i would have missed it otherwise. Love your phrase, “delicate armatures of graphite.” Perfect!

  2. Deborah Barlow’s avatar

    Diane, thanks so much for your words. Agnes, she just keeps giving…

  3. singingbirdartist’s avatar

    yes, thank you for reposting this, it was the post that brought me to your blog, which has become such a pleasure in my life…agnes martin is shatteringly good, seeing her work, reading her instructions on painting i always feel broken open again to work better, harder, to always make what is mine…
    thank you!

    1. Deborah Barlow’s avatar

      What a wonderful comment. Thank you so much for your words. They speak directly to me.

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