‘The Islands (after Agnes Martin 1961)’


Mixed media: fake pearls, thread, graphite & gesso on linen

h 120 x w 120 x d 5 cm, 2015

Framing: unframed, on canvas

There’s a beautiful painting by Agnes Martin called ‘The Islands’. It’s 6ft square, on linen and to stand in front of it is a wonderful experience. I found it so inspiring that I created this piece as a meditation on ‘The Islands’. It’s smaller, wobblier and altogether different than Agnes’ original – but it’s found a quality of its own.

These ‘Islands’ are single fake pearls, stitched by hand onto a slightly iridescent linen and graphite base. The grid they create holds a delicate but firmly present space in the centre of the piece, echoed by the pale line that somehow contains the whole piece.


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Agnes Martin Islands Moments

There have been many ‘Agnes Martin Islands’ moments in my life. Those precious, priceless individual momentary events that when you put them next to each other ‘en masse’ add up to hundreds of unique moments and a very beautiful story.

I was lucky enough to have met Agnes Martin in person too – 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 (priceless) advice as an artist. I collected quite a few precious ‘Agnes Martin Islands’ moments on that day alone, let alone the ones I amassed during the months of travel and research beforehand and on the huge adventure that followed. 

Mi Abuelas

In my mind from then on, she became a sort of grandmotherly figure for me, not to mention an inspiration for my work. My real grandmother, with whom I shared so many ‘Agnes Martin Islands’ moments and who I love deeply, 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 almost immediately and I’m still using these techniques now in much of my work.

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.

The Tate Show

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.

Moving Meditations

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.

Memory & Meaning

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…

If you’re unsure about which piece to buy, this piece and other artworks are also available to rent.

‘The Islands (after Agnes Martin 1961)’ was last modified: December 15th, 2018 by Michelle Rumney


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