Finding Inner Peace Between Thin Black Lines

Agnes Martin’s Monochromatic Art Was Her Answer to Taoism’s Call for Austerity

Black is a strong color, and makes a powerful line. It is also elemental and austere—things that would have appealed particularly to artist Agnes Martin, who grew up in a Calvinist household in early 1900s Canada and was later influenced by Taoism and Zen Buddhism.

Martin is best known for her sublime abstract paintings of grids and lines, which at first glance may look like hand-drawn ledgers. Her early work from the 1950s and 1960s is mainly black, white, and earthen tones. In her long career, Martin did not solely …