Agnes Martin Before the Grid

Friends, classmates and lovers of one of the 20th century's most influential artists reveal for the first time the story of Agnes Martin's early years defying the hardships of poverty, mental illness and forbidden loves. Through sheer determination and the timely generosity of others, she develops to create the transcendent art that would make her famous.

  • Kathleen Brennan
  • Kathleen Brennan
  • Jina Brenneman
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    56 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    September 1, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    100,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Kathleen Brennan

Kathleen Brennan is an award-winning multi-disciplinary artist with an extensive background in photography and video. Her video work has focused on documenting and preserving cultural traditions and the stories that gather around places. Brennan knew Agnes Martin and has a passion for her art and beliefs.
She lives and works in Taos, New Mexico and is the director, co-producer, and editor of the film, Agnes Martin Before the Grid.

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Director Statement

In 2009, Jina Brenneman, then curator of the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, NM decided to put together an exhibition of Martin’s early work entitled, Agnes Martin Before the Grid. It was to celebrate the 100 anniversary of Martin’s birth in1912.
Over the course of the three years leading up to the exhibit in 2012, Brenneman sought out people who had early work or who knew her during those years.

I worked, as an independent photographer/videographer with the museum through Jina and helped to document the exhibit for catalog, the archives and traveling.
We worked on several other projects where I created short videos to accompany shows at the museum.

In 2014 while working on a project together, Jina emailed me asking for a brief meeting having to do with an idea about Agnes Martin. I had known Martin and admired her work, so I was eager to jump into anything having to do with her.
Jina’s idea stemmed from the show in 2012. She explained that in doing research for the exhibit she found that very little research delved into the early life and work of this iconic artist. She recognized that the people who knew about this period of her life were either very aged or dead. Her idea was to gather the oral histories and memories from friends, lovers and classmates that spent time with the artist and knew of her challenges and processes as she worked her way to what became her famous grid paintings in the 1960s. Jina and I both realized that this was an important goal and attainable since we lived in the area where Martin spent a lot of her years. We decided to focus our efforts on the memories and stories that spanned Martin’s life from her early years until 1967 when she left NY for good.
It was in the years leading up to 1967 that Martin received her schooling, taught and developed her work that lead to the “grid”.

By uncovering these stories, a more complete picture of the lesbian artist who lived with schizophrenia and poverty is revealed. A woman who struggled and was tormented, yet achieved world fame in spite of it. It was her friends that saw her through the bad times, the poor times, and helped in any way they knew how to uplift her and support her career. The stories were so compelling and interesting, we decided to make a movie.

Every creative person has their challenges to reach their goals and to find themselves to be the artist they are. As Agnes said, you don’t have a choice, you have to do the work. That work requires discipline and dedication. This is the story we wish to share.