Agnes Martin's painting 'Faraway Love,1999' hangs just inside the entrance to Room1on the second floor of Tate Modern. It is part of a display themed 'In the studio'. It sits in the space with just one other piece, Antony Gormley's 'Untitled (for Francis) 1985'. They have been twinned to demonstrate 'two contrasting practices' (1) the different ways figuration and abstraction can be used to express ideas about the world.
Standing before this large pale canvas I busily scribbled down some of the thoughts it was provoking. An old man appeared beside me and I turned round to see him gazing at my notebook with a bemused expression on his face. "What are you seeing" he asked, "there is lots to see I answered...if you spend a bit of time you begin to see things"...he didn't look convinced. I asked if he liked the Antony Gormley figure and he said yes that was the kind of art he liked.
I found this little exchange interesting because it made me wonder why I responded to something so minimal, why did it resonate more strongly with me than the figurative sculpture? Maybe it is the absence of recognisable forms which allow for a kind of transcendent experience to take place. Of course Agnes Martin spent a lifetime trying to create works which invoked exactly that kind of response.
The simplicity of the component elements inspired absorption. The nuanced character of the hand drawn pencil lines, the way their graphite trails bumped along the texture of the canvas, it connected me directly to the hand of the artist. The barely perceptible pale bands of light blue had an iridescence and a strange depth, the brilliant white of the ground showing through. There was so little to look at, you begin to notice every little detail and flaw in the seemingly perfect space.
After I had continued through to the rest of the exhibition - with its eclectic mix of work - I re-emerged into the first room and the thing that struck me most was the 'purity' of this painting. Somehow having been filled with the imagery and materiality of all the other works I had encountered, this was the response I had. I don't think it is because it is barely there, it was strangely more there.