Categories: Cathy Breslaw, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: Another World: The Transcendental Painting Group, 1938-1945

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Through June 19, 2023

January 19, 2023
by Cathy Breslaw

Agnes Pelton

As I entered this exhibition, I was transported into its’ atmosphere of paintings on subdued purple walls – purple being a color with a known association to spirituality.  Color, light and abstract forms are the language of these paintings whose artists were united in their belief and desire to elevate the human spirit drawn from the artist’s inner soul. Called the Transcendental Painting Group, these artists joined together in New Mexico, founded and led by painters Raymond Jonson and Emil Bisttram. Inspired by the big skies and landscapes of the high desert, and guided by the tenets of the European painter Wassily Kandinsky whose book The Art of Spiritual Harmony (1914) spoke to them.

The most well-known artist of this group is Agnes Pelton whose 14 paintings feature luminous and diaphanous biomorphic shapes in variations of mostly blues and purples, sometimes combined with recognizable images of birds, flowers and land forms. Others in the group were Lawren Harris, Florence Miller Pierce, Horace Pierce, Robert Gribboek, William Lumpkins, Stuart Walker, Dane Rudhyar, and Ed Garman.

Having had the privilege of knowing Ed Garman during the last few years of his life, (2001-2003) I was eager to see his paintings. I sought out Garman in 2001 after hearing an NPR interview with the artist – As an artist myself, I was impressed with his dedication to craft, and strong connection with the spiritual in art which I share, so I reached out to him.  I was fortunate enough to visit his studio in San Diego where he was painting luminous small watercolors with the same sense of purity of form and color as I saw in his oil paintings in the exhibition.

Ed Garman – Abstract No 283A 1942; oil on board & Painting No 231  1941, oil on board

The Transcendental Painting Group only existed as a group for 6 years – from 1938 to 1945 as World War II brought an end to it and the artists dispersed though they continued to make art. The paintings and graphite drawings of Florence Miller Pierce,(who was the youngest of the group) stood out in their delicate and ethereal floating biomorphic shapes and color relationships.  The short film The Spiral Symphony in Four Movements: Birth, Death, the Crystal, the Flower, Death (1938) showing a selection of airbrushed and painted works of Pierce’s husband, Horace Pierce, was a highlight of the show. The layered color spiral geometric and organic images were mesmerizing as they were projected onto an expansive wall in one of the exhibition rooms. Music, created and arranged by fellow TPG artist Dane Rudhyar added to the movement of the images in the film.

Due to the relatively short time span of the group’s existence, the TPG didn’t last as an “art movement” per se, but from the artists’ shared energy and commitment during their time together, the works created have an impact on those of us who experience their art. Using the tenets of 20th century modernism, of cosmic purity of form and inner vision, their works live on. Their luminous, ethereal and spiritual imagery and authenticity once seen is not easily forgotten.

The LACMA exhibition curated beautifully by Michael Duncan is on view through June 19th, 2023, the last of a 5 museum tour.

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