Her first home in the Southwestern state was on the secluded Portales Mesa, located some 20 miles of dusty desert from the nearest highway. In her early years here, she extended the break from painting she’d taken while on the road and, in 1972, penned a profoundly moving essay titled “The Untroubled Mind.” In it, she celebrated the calming, emancipating effects of isolation: “Solitude and freedom are the same,” she proclaimed.
Later, when she returned to making work, Martin continued to emphasize the importance of making art in seclusion—without people or even pets in tow. “To discover the conscious mind in a world where intellect is held to be valuable requires solitude—quite a lot of solitude. We have been very strenuously conditioned against solitude,” she wrote. “I suggest to artists that you take every opportunity of being alone, that you give up having pets and unnecessary companions.”
But as Princenthal has pointed out, Martin “spoke just as often of the devastation wrought by solitude.” After her attempts at total remove from society, it seems she realized that a balance was integral to both her life and work. In “The Untroubled Mind,” she wrote, “Asceticism is a mistake / sought out suffering is a mistake.” In her 1973 lecture “On the Perfection Underlying Life,” she elaborated with dramatic aplomb: “The solitary life is full of terrors.…Worse than the terror of fear is the Dragon. The Dragon really pounds through the inner streets shaking everything and breathing fire. The fire of his breath destroys and disintegrates everything.…The solitary person is great danger from the Dragon because without an outside enemy the Dragon turns on the self.”
For the remainder of her life—a period in which she made some of her most masterful canvases—Martin continued to battle the proverbial dragons that urged her towards total solitude. While hours in the studio were usually spent alone, they were paired with frequent hikes with friends and trips into the New Mexican towns of Taos and Galisteo where her ever-growing community of artists gathered. She saw
and his wife, poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, regularly; rubbed elbows with
; and invited many friends over to her house for home-cooked meals.
remembers glimpsing Martin at local parties, where she “never got up and danced,” but still “thoroughly enjoyed herself,” as Princenthal reported. Some friends remembered Martin’s favorite drink as a martini, while others said it was sherry. Martin took many young artists, who made pilgrimages to her home, under her wing, as well—all vibrant instances of the painter’s successful and important bid to “stay in the midst of life.”