Agnes Martin, still from Gabriel, courtesy of Pace Gallery.
Canadian-American artist Agnes Martin (1912-2004) is known around the world for radical abstract paintings characterized by fine lines, horizontals and verticals, mild and subdued colours. Martin’s works do not refer to external reality, but rather she sought to capture pure emotions and the upheaval of the mind; her paintings not unlike visual music or mantras.
Gabriel (1976), the only film Agnes Martin made in her lifetime, is 78 minutes long, filmed in the American Southwest (New Mexico, California, Colorado) and follows the boy Gabriel on a journey into nature. Between what we watch of the young boy walking along forest paths, mountains and beside streams, focus is upon the natural phenomena. The film has long, close-up shots of flowers, trees, water and desert sand for example. Gabriel was filmed on a handheld camera that Martin herself controlled, and the sense of her personal hand in the slight flickering of the filming is present. If not for the fragments of the Goldberg Variations of J.S Bach, that sound here and there for a few minutes at a time, the film is silent. Agnes Martin said herself that Gabriel was a film of beauty, innocence and ecstasy, all key concepts in the work of the artist.