A close mentoring relationship developed between American painter Agnes Martin (1912-2004) and New Mexico sculptor Karen Yank during the last 17 years of Martin’s life.
Yank and Martin met in 1987 at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine at a time when Yank had just graduated from art school.
“Agnes told me I was all over the place with my art and that I would never achieve success unless I narrowed my focus,” recalls Yank. “She encouraged me to meditate.”
Taking Martin’s advice, Yank built up a meditation practice that helped her find her artistic path. Some of Yank’s most recent pieces are on display in a new show opening on September 21 at Turner Carroll Gallery titled “Karen Yank and Agnes Martin.”
Yank is drawn to the circle, which is a form that Martin did not like to use in her own work.
“Agnes told me she liked squares the best and also rectangles but that she didn’t like circles,” says Yank. “During my meditation practice, I kept seeing circles. I created an entire body of work with circles in it before showing it to Agnes. She loved it. She told me she thought this work was my mature vision.”
Yank likes to incorporate circular images with intersecting lines into her sculptural works because of their rich thematic relevance found throughout history. “The circle and cross are some of the earliest symbols seen in human cultural development, dating back to the Stone Age,” Yank adds. “Circles reference all that is natural.”
Yank’s steel and stainless steel sculptures that hang on the wall, tabletop pieces and freestanding works are on exhibit in the Turner Carroll Gallery show. Also on display are a dozen prints by Martin.
The show is presented in anticipation of a new book that Yank is writing about her relationship with Martin called “Travels with Agnes.”
“What was so special about Agnes is that she believed every person, not just artists, can access inspiration,” says Yank. “She also believed that art is an embodiment of beauty, which she defined as deep emotion.”