Making ‘The Islands’

Making ‘The Islands’

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I met Agnes Martin in 1994, when I was in New Mexico on a student exchange. She was kind enough to give me an hour of her time and some advice as an artist. In my mind she became a sort of grandmother figure for me, not to mention an inspiration for my work.

My real grandmother died about a year later and I inherited all her sewing materials, including lots of sequins and beads. I incorporated sewing and stitching into my work and for years I’ve had a picture in my head of beads sewn on a grid across a huge 6ft square canvas – a piece I’ve not yet made.


In April 2015, the Tate had their Agnes Martin retrospective and I went along to the PV and back to the exhibition several times over the next few months. The pieces that lingered in my mind long after the show were ‘The Islands’ – a huge room full of 6×6′ white emptied out canvases,¬†and an earlier work, a single piece on 6×6’raw linen called ‘The Islands’ 1961.

This piece also made me laugh. Not the intended serene effect, though Agnes Martin would probably have enjoyed the joke. The trouble was, the Tate had installed alarms to protect the works in the show, but ‘The Islands’ 1961 is so exquisite, with its perfectly centred grid of delicate identically hand-painted white drops, that almost every visitor was naturally leaning in to look more closely at it. The protective alarm was going off constantly, completely disrupting any sense of calm or meditation the work might otherwise evoke.

Like I said, it lingered in my memory on many levels, and makes me smile whenever I think about it, about Agnes Martin and about Anne (Agnes) Rumney, my grandmother, so I decided to make a piece to honour all 3 in my own personal way…

Here’s a short clip of the¬†process of sewing the hundreds of fake pearls onto the linen…

Making ‘The Islands’ was last modified: July 23rd, 2020 by Michelle Rumney

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