Agnes Bernice Martin was born in Macklin, Saskatchewan, grew up in Vancouver, and moved to the United States in 1931, becoming an American citizen in 1940. Martin studied at Western Washington UniversityCollege of Education, Bellingham, WA, prior to receiving her B.A. (1942) from Teachers College, Columbia University. After hearing lectures by the Zen Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki at Columbia, she became interested in Asian thought, not as a religious discipline, but as a code of ethics, a practical how-to for getting through life. A few years following graduation, Martin matriculated at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where she also taught art courses before returning to Columbia University to earn her M.A. (1952). She left New York City in 1967 and settled in New Mexico. She built an adobe home for herself there. She lived alone all her adult life.
A pioneer of her time, Agnes Martin refrained from publicly expressing her feelings towards woman but other artists knew she was a closeted homosexual. She often employed an intersectional feminist lens when she critiqued fellow artists’ work. Jaleh Mansoor, an art historian, states that Martin was “too engaged in a feminist relation to practice, perhaps, to objectify and label it as such”.