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Artist Agnes Martin Faced Shock Treatments & Stigma in Her Search For Love

Agnes Martin
Courtesy of the Harwood Museum of Art

A new book explores the complicated relationships of the pioneer, painter, and icon.


Given her dislike of biography, Agnes Martin might be surprised at the resurgence of interest in her life and career, including the celebrated 2016 Guggenheim retrospective that brought her work to another generation of art lovers. Now comes Henry Martin's Agnes Martin: Pioneer, Painter, Icon (Schaffner Press), which suggests that the artist's well-documented catatonia, schizophrenia, and shock treatments were induced by the social prohibitions on same-sex love.

The new book beautifully illuminates the challenges of lesbian relationships at a time when women could never exist publicly as a unit, and so were prone to breakups. "Mildred. Daphne. Kristina. Betty. Lenore. Chryssa," writes Martin. "Each relationship was another opportunity for Agnes to start over. Unfortunately, Agnes always fell into the same trap of obsession followed by flight."

Agnes Martin: Pioneer, Painter, Icon by Henry Martin is available for purchase at Schaffner Press.

Portrait of Agnes Martin, Ledoux St. studio, Taos, 1954-1955.

Courtesy of the Harwood Museum of Art, Mildred Tolbert Archive, Taos, New Mexico

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