Born in Macklin, Canada, in 1912, and raised in Vancouver, Agnes Martin relocated to the US in 1932, where she became a citizen in 1950. She studied at the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City, receiving both her BS and MA; it was during her time at Teachers College that she decided to pursue art, though she would teach for several years before devoting herself to painting.
By 1947, Martin moved to New Mexico and developed her own distinct style that is often seen through the lens of Abstract Expressionism, but visually is more closely related to Minimalism. Known for her subtle, large-scale grid canvases, executed with almost mechanical precision, it was not long before her work began to be noticed back in the New York art world. The gallerist Betty Parsons recommended she move back to New York, and in 1957 Martin relocated to Coenties Slip, the Lower Manhattan neighborhood that was home to artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Indiana. Her work during this period fully evolved into the minimalistic, geometric abstractions that have come to be widely recognized today; most often square-format monochromes with penciled grids, her style was a serene reprieve from the bold, emotional, and highly gestural work of Abstract Expressionism that was dominating the New York art scene at the time.
Martin eventually left New York in 1967, and after a considerable amount of time traveling between the U.S. and Mexico, she eventually settled in Taos, New Mexico. She lived alone for most of her life, and continued to develop her signature style: remaining more or less faithful to the square-format canvas and use of meticulously drawn grids, she experimented with pale washes of color. Martin continued to paint until her death in 2004.
Martin’s work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions around the world, with perhaps most notably a major retrospective that was initiated at Tate Modern, London in 2015, which travelled to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum n New York. Among her achievements were the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 1997 and the National Medal of Arts from the Office of the President in 1998.