Agnes Martin was born in Macklin on March 22, 1912, Saskatchewan, grew up in Vancouver, and moved to the United States in 1931, becoming a citizen in 1950. Martin studied at Western Washington University College of Education, Bellingham, WA, prior to receiving her B.S. (1942) from Teachers College, Columbia University. 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 became a United States citizen in 1950.
Martin's work is most closely associated with Taos, New Mexico, although she moved to New York City after being discovered by the artist/gallery owner Betty Parsons in 1957. In 1957, she settled in Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan, where her friends and neighbors included Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jack Youngerman. After Martin left New York and moved to Cuba, New Mexico, in 1967, she did not paint for seven years. However, in 1974, she completed a group of new paintings and from 1975 onwards exhibited regularly.
According to a filmed interview with her which was released in 2003, she had moved from New York City only when she was told her rented loft/workspace/studio would be no longer available because of the building's imminent demolition. She goes on further to state that she could not conceive of working in any other space in New York.
Since her first solo exhibition in 1958, Martin's work has been the subject of more than 85 solo shows and two retrospectives including the survey Agnes Martin organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, which later traveled to Milwaukee, Miami, Houston and Madrid (1992–94) and Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings 1974–1990 organized by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, with subsequent venues in France and Germany (1991–92). In 2002, the Menil Collection, Houston, mounted Agnes Martin: The Nineties and Beyond. That same year, The Harwood Museum of Art at the University of New Mexico, Taos, organized Agnes Martin: Paintings from 2001, as well as a symposium honoring Martin on the occasion of her 90th birthday.