That day it was the first time in a whole week when I could go to my studio. But I had no strength to do so. Stress of the previous week made that day seem empty. I couldn't find enough force to fill it with anything. Instead I watched a documentary about Agnes Martin. The DVD had been lying on a shelf ever since it was bought at Tate Modern.
At first it was difficult to watch, mainly due to Agnes' age, in the film she is 86. The slowness of her movements and smacking of lips were slightly disturbing. I wanted to see pictures of her young. To see her being active, meeting other artists, visiting exhibitions. But such images do not exist. After all Agnes spent her life in solitude.
There was only black-and-white photograph showing a group of young people on a roof. It was the artist's studio in New York, where Agnes worked for over ten years. The photograph also captured a little boy. In her interview Agnes spoke a lot about him. At these moments her senile face was enlightened as she couldn't stop smiling.
Quite soon I stopped noticing the age of the artist. And a human with no age or even gender appeared in front of me. The human who is condemned to life in this world. Who is seeking beauty in it. Not in the world, more precisely, but in life. Agnes' creativity is not associated with nature or with the person. She is a geometric expressionist.
For twenty years she was creating art she didn't like. She had to work every other year to save up for the year she could paint. At the end of twenty-year period, quite traditionally, she has burned all of her canvases.
Agnes waited for an inspiration patiently. She thought of innocence. How it might be pictured. In the interview she talked about people-squares and people-rectangles. Square - a tough figure, not wanting to change. A rectangle - a soft one, it is able to adapt. Perhaps she saw softness as innocence. Agnes lined a canvas within small horizontal rectangles. For the first time in twenty years she liked what she did. She sent the work to MOMA and it got accepted. 35 years of work in the same format have followed. 182.9 cm x 182.9 cm canvases. The size should be large enough for a person to associate himself with the work. That's how he could enter it, Agnes thought. In her very late years size of the work has slightly decreased, due to her feeble physique.
When Agnes lived in New York, she participated in a group exhibition, alongside with other minimalist artists. The documentary showed a brochure, which listed the names of the participants. Among them was Jo Baer. I couldn't help, but smile when I saw her name. I had a conversation with her in the Camden Art Centre in London last year. Back then it left no doubt in my heart that I spoke to a true artist. She talked about the boundaries. Innocent, modest energy was flowing from a slender 85 years old body. By the end of our dialogue my eyes were filled with tears. Now watching this film and picturing youngish Agnes and Jo working on a collective exhibition, put a smile on my face. It felt as if I have visited that distant New York myself.
Geometric Expressionism is an ideology. Many people felt sorry for Agnes because of her lonely life. That she wasn't married and had no children. She herself said that she was born on earth hundreds of times, and she had hundreds of husbands and hundreds of children. This time she asked to be alone. When a person is alone, the world starts talking to him. I couldn’t agree with her more. When interacting with others we are forced to participate in social behavior games. Comparing ourselves with others we see things through a prism of the ego.
At the end of the film an old woman has turned in my eyes into a being of the future. Calm, sensible, thoughtful. Her body only confirmed the rightness of her lifestyle. Agnes lived to be 92 years.
The artist talked a lot about the need of clearing one's mind. She knew how to do so by waiting patiently for an inspiration. Once she waited for five months. Five months of silence and inaction. The approach so dissimilar to our modern lifestyle. In our world, one has to move constantly and shouldn't sit idle.
I liked the way Agnes confided to her talent. She didn't follow flimsy quests or trends of her time. She managed to unite celebration of the personal and denial of the ego. She didn't accept or absorb aggression of the world. Agnes has made a film about happiness, in which a boy named Gabriel ascends the mountain. Film shows the grass swaying in the wind and waves approaching the shore. Agnes stated that they're happy.
Perhaps, in the future all people will come to this understanding of life. But on the other hand, somebody has to build the house and the studio, to produce the paint and the canvas. Otherwise, the artist would get absorbed in making things for a purpose, not art.
After the film ended it was difficult to look at all the objects in my apartment, including one of my recent collages. Carefully selected to please the eye, they suddenly began to seem flamboyant. Empty spaces excite me as I feel the need to fill them. But when I do fill them with an infinite number of little things, they become heavyweights, that are hard to cope with. Perhaps that empty day has given me a lesson - to learn to be released.