After Agnes Martin ‘friendship’, 2018,
9″ X 11″, water-colour and gold leaves
In this post, we will examine Modern arts take on the topic of friendship. I’m particularly intrigued by the painting ‘Friendship’ by painter Agnes Martin. The above art piece by me is a homage to her original work. It took me some attempts and it is still a difficult process in making it. Her original art work can be viewed at MOMA website or you can google it.
We know from Agnes Martin biographical accounts that she established long term friendships with other artists. She had also went on hiking trips with some of them. She was an educator, particularly of children, she loved children. Her painting ‘friendship’ is different from the rest of her art works, as it used the sgraffito method to reveal the bottom layer of colour. The bottom layer is bole and the top layer is gold leaves.
My own personal sgraffito method of doing art was when I was in children arts class, where we normally just use crayons. Her method is of high sophistication in the application of Gold leaves and incising uniform lines across them to reveal the bottom bole layer.
This seem to have changed the usual knowledge of how we understand the use of Gold leaves in art, for example, in decoration or embellishments for religious art objects since ancient times. Today, gold leaves can be applied to surfaces instantly to give a different texture, feeling, context to the object. Gold, as a metal had inspired much symbolism throughout history. One important aspect will be its association to health, the perfect state of health. As language is diverse and use in many ways, we may also think of friendships, being in its healthy state, perhaps a reference to psychological well being, artistic interactions and social networks. It is well known that Martin lived to an old age of early nineties and maintain many friendships throughout her life. James Hillman in his lectures series once explained that gilded pieces became more precious because the base metal, solid gold, was transformed by creativity processes with imagination into Art pieces.
At this point, I can only infer both through the title of her art work, ‘friendship’ and the method of production of the art piece to understand that she is giving some strong significance to the notion of ‘friendship’. And that there is information to be reveal beneath the values of it. Her art work is highly controlled and technically demanding. The sgraffito method revealed the bole layer, which is part of the process for water gilding. Rather then only adding on the gold leaves to ‘decorate’ or ’embellish’ the canvas as an object. She use the gold leaves to cover up the canvas. Then again, removing the gold leaves with surgical precision to reveal geometric patterns on the canvas.
1. Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art by Nancy Princenthal
2. Back to the future for mankind, Biogeometry by Ibrahim Karim
4. Sgraffito Granito: Revisiting an Ancient Technique by William Bruce Adair, http://www.pictureframingmagazine.net/portals/0/pfm/PDFS/2015/Aug_15/Aug_15_Sgraffito.pdf