Agnes Martin, Flower in the Wind, 1963


What is it about the desert that makes me feel so at peace? Maybe it is its subtle, sun-faded colors. Its boundlessness. The fact that it is at once monotonous and variegated. The way the rows upon rows of sagebrush slide out into the horizon, greens and silvers fading into silvers and tans. There are no harsh ruptures—only gently shifting gradations. The yawning distances between here and that farthest mountain are fully visible because the land stretches and rolls out as if exhibiting itself to me. Nothing is hidden. There are no secrets. Even the distinction between land and sky is softened with snow-capped white mountains that reach up to kiss the white clouds that likewise sneak down to nuzzle the highest mountain peaks. Nothing is static; everything is in flux. But it is gentle. Like the subtle but constant tugging of the sea’s currents.

I suppose that’s it. The quiet, subtle flux of the desert is but one example of a larger phenomenon. Just one manifestation of this larger life truth, for the ocean is like this too. Its rough, crashing waves that push and pull. Its swirling, ever-moving water whose color slowly changes as the eye moves from shoreline to horizon line. The blurring between land and sea and sky. In tighter spaces we lose sight of this truth. Transitions are often sharp and violent. The colors of our everyday experiences have a frenetic energy, whether you’re the leaf on a sagebrush or a grain of sand or a wildflower blowing in a meadow of millions. But within a larger context, the infinitesimal fits into a broader spectrum of colors and textures, of time and space.

There is a bizarre comfort in feeling insignificant in these environments. To see yourself woven into the textures of the sand and the tumbleweeds. To observe yourself as one little fleck of color in a swaying, pulsing world. For even if you are dwarfed in this context, you are a part of it. You are intrinsic.

This is why I paint, and this is what I paint. I capture this essence. I create an endless grid—a grid unbounded by the four straight lines of my canvas. Just as in the deserts of New Mexico, my canvases hold a uniformity of color that is also full of movement and variety. The painting’s subtle shifts in hue and shade and brightness suggest movement and time and distance. The grid carries its momentum outward and beyond. It spills out into the world. Like the sagebrush. Like the clouds. Like the waves.

Here, in New York, the night is punctuated by the rumbling of the subway and the crying out of sirens. Here, I am confronted with edifices in place of vistas. Here, emotions spike. Here, I cannot escape the voices. The unsolicited critiques of my thoughts. The one specific voice that tells me what I can and cannot do. Voices have driven me to doctors, and they will drive me from this place. Back to places where I can let them out into the night air. In my apartment, in the canyons of this city, they only reverberate and intensify my isolation.

So I will go back where I am free and comfortable. I will nestle in among the tawny land and the silver-green sagebrush and the sky in its ever-changing shades of blue and orange. I will remember what I am.

There, I will once again experience fleeting moments of perfection. “At such times we are suddenly very happy and we wonder why life ever seemed troublesome. In an instant we can see the road ahead free from all difficulties, and we think that we will never lose it again. All this and a great deal more in barely a moment, and then it is gone.” And then it is gone. Except in my paintings. They bring it back.


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