Agnes Martin created her only major print project, “On a Clear Day,” towards the end of a seven-year period (1967-1974) during which she made no paintings. Martin had moved to an isolated mesa in New Mexico to live in isolation. She had spent the previous decade in New York City, a time during which she had critical and commercial success but disliked the distractions of the busy city, desiring a quieter, clearer place to live where she could make her “egoless” art that was imbued with beauty, openness and joy. Invited to make a print project in 1971, it took her two years to bring it to fruition. The results were “On a Clear Day.” Shortly after finishing the project, she resumed her painting practice, which she continued until she passed away in 2004.
In 2008, the curator, Kevin Salatino, then Curator of Prints at Los Angeles County Museum of Art and now Chair & Curator of Prints & Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago wrote the following about Martin and this project:
As with all of her mature work, the prints of “On a Clear Day” take as their subject matter the grid, rendered with an astonishing diversity of expression, focused with severe rigor yet compositionally and interpretatively open. About her grids, Martin famously said, “My formats are square, but the grids never are absolutely square; they are rectangles . . . . When I cover the square surface with rectangles, it lightens the weight of the square, destroys its power.” Elsewhere, she explained that the grid came to her as an inspiration. “I was thinking about innocence, and then I saw it in my mindthat grid . . . . So I painted it, and sure enough, it was innocent.” Martin’s grid of rectangles, as one critic noted, “eradicated the hierarchical balancing of parts. The effect was not only a surface in perfect equilibrium, but one that epitomized unity and wholeness.” While her grid was early on interpreted as a purified analog of nature, Martin vigorously rejected this reading. “My work is anti-nature,” she declared. “[It] is about emotionnot personal emotion [but] abstract emotion. It’s about those subtle moments of happiness we all experience.” She succinctly defined art as “the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings.” Grander in conception than any of Martin’s paintings, “On a Clear Day” condenses through multiplication thirty ways of constructing a grid, of expressing happiness, beauty, freedom, and the impossibility of, though yearning for, perfection. Its individual parts, recalling the number of days in a month, imply the passage of time. Its title declares the long-sought-for clarity the artist had struggled to find in the barren New Mexican desert. One of the great works of graphic art of the late twentieth century, “On a Clear Day” announces with luminous clarity and conviction Martin’s return to aesthetic wholeness.