The Paris Review

Agnes Martin Finds the Light That Gets Lost

Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1965. © Estate of Agnes Martin/DACS, London, 2015. Published in Agnes Martin, a monograph from Distributed Art Publishers.

When I was very young, I heard somewhere that the blue of the sky is the hardest color to mix with paints. It made sense to me that there must be something humans are always chasing, and if that were the case, it would necessarily have to be the heavens. Years later, in a painting class, mixing oily cobalt blue straight from the tube with a little titanium white, I wondered what all the fuss was about. I’d made sky blue: I held it up to the window to compare, and yes, it was sky. I could add buttery strokes of titanium white, for clouds, and dapple on a warmer white, if I wanted to light them, and then there was a whole spectrum of pinks and peaches and oranges for sunset or sunrise. It was that easy. There is even a commercially produced shade, I discovered, called cerulean. Its name derives from the Latin word for the heavens.

Years later, when I realized I wasn’t very good at painting, I considered that perhaps what I had heard about blue didn’t have more to do with expression than it had to do with replication; if what was difficult is trying to capture the size and depth of the sky: the distance that stretches between us and the rest of the universe. By that point, I’d studied painting long enough to know that the sky, the blue that Rebecca Solnit, in , describes as “the light that got lost”:

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