Playing for two weeks at New York City’s Film Forum, Mary Lance’s Agnes Martin: With My Back to the World, together with Vivien Bittencourt and Vincent Katz’s Kiki Smith: Squatting the Palace, reveals that every artist has their own language. Agnes Martin, who died in 2004 at the age of 92, spoke with a particularly soothing philosophical brush, conveying her emotion with lines and grids that seemed to travel well past the physical boundaries of her canvases. Deepak Chopra, in talking about his book Life After Death on a recent episode of The Colbert Report, suggested that “there is no creative impulse in the absence of discontent.” Martin would have disagreed, seeing as her creative impulse thrived in the absence of negative energy. Though the woman lived in isolation for most of her life, affected not by politics and “facts” but the wind and water and the floorboards of her home with their creaky questions and answers, she speaks profoundly about having been born over and over again and having given birth to hundreds of children. On the brink of death, the perpetually plaid-wearing Martin reveals a personal philosophical belief system that is simple on the surface but, in truth, traverses mind-blowing directions—not unlike her formal artwork, the geometry and colors of which reflect the essence of her being. She relates the story of her birth and a cutaway to one of her impressive grid paintings reveals its own saga of creation. This is director Lance’s great contribution to the film: She contrasts her subject’s discourse with the world outside, looking for lines both vertical and horizontal in the crashing of waves and in a landscape of trees, matching Martin’s aesthetic to her own. With My Back to the World becomes, then, a multi-layered demonstration of living in almost perfect harmony.
- 57 min
- Mary Lance
- Agnes Martin
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