Another World: The Transcendental Painting Group: 1938-1945 at the Albuquerque Museum surveys the New Mexico group that dove deep into abstract painting to create pathways to spiritual enlightenment.
Another World: The Transcendental Painting Group: 1938-1945
June 26-September 26, 2021
The Transcendental Painting Group formed in New Mexico in 1938 with the grand mission of using abstract painting to discover cosmic truths. Its members—both men and women who were associated with Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque—saw vibrant colors and sharp forms as ways to explore the spiritual aspects of the universe.
They also drew from science, esoteric philosophy, astronomy, and astrology. One of the members, Dane Rudhyar, became a famed astrologer; another, Horace Pierce, was fascinated by mathematics.
One wonderful result of the group’s output—currently on display in the exhibition Another World: The Transcendental Painting Group: 1938-1945 at the Albuquerque Museum—is that many of the pieces look like science-fiction landscapes or perhaps art by alien explorers.
The TPG were heavily influenced by the great Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky’s 1914 essay The Art of Spiritual Harmony, a manifesto arguing for the validity and necessity of abstract art. The influence of his own painting on the group is obvious, as is the inspiration of Cubism in terms of the technique of multiple perspectives. Raymond Jonson’s painting City Forces (1932) includes a visual pun: as green lines of force shoot out of a pipe, they also double as the strings of a guitar with the body of the instrument behind it, a motif used often in Cubist art.
The New Mexico landscape inspired the group—the enormous sky, the vast horizon, the mountains, the sense of freedom these qualities brought, and by what TPG painter Emil Bisttram called “the strange, almost mystical quality of the light.”
Among the striking works—for instance, Florence Miller Pierce’s meditative drawings—Agnes Pelton, whose recent rediscovery includes a show at the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, is responsible for the most original and eye-catching paintings in the exhibition.
Pelton was associated with the TPG although she predominantly lived in the desert areas of California. She painted traditional landscapes to earn money but kept her strangely cheerful spiritual landscapes for herself. Of all the paintings on display, these works look the most like scenes from another planet. It’s reminiscent of the fabulist painter Maxfield Parrish, known for his idyllic scenes of beautiful youth lounging under an evening sky. This may seem like an odd comparison for they would seem to have nothing in common except saturated colors and a common subject: the joy found in paradise.
Pelton’s Resurgence (1938), a curving blue peak or wave heads to a seven-pointed star. Beyond are forms that look like icebergs. Multi-colored bangles surround the wave. Most of the painting is a greenish-blue expanse, shading to violet, which reads as sky. Here is an abstract painting that does not read as abstract. It seems to speak of a joyful discovery of something greater. It’s hard to say why this work is mesmerizing, but it’s part of Pelton’s mysterious gift.
The Another World exhibition includes another bizarre and extraordinary painting by Robert Carter Gribbroek, who lived in Isleta Pueblo for several years. He later became a layout artist for Chuck Jones’s Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner cartoons for Warner Bros.
In Gribbroek’s Beyond Civilization to Texas (1950), a gigantic yellow and brown orchid, resembling an airplane propeller, is positioned near the window plane of the painting. It seems to emerge from a gnarled piece of driftwood levitating off the desert floor which stretches away to geometric blue mountains. Further behind it and to the right is a bone or rock that’s also twisted. Here and there, as if to mark the distance, glass marbles are placed across the expanse. The shadows are indigo, rimmed in red. The sky, as in Pelton’s painting, is teal blue.
The Transcendental Painting Group’s spiritual search might not be for everyone, but its remarkable efforts sought new frontiers of consciousness, discovered and revealed spiritual truths, and used non-literal painting as a tool for interior exploration. They may or may not have found what they were looking for; still, they made art. Like the glass marbles on the desert floor in Gribbroek’s painting, the group’s visuals served as markers of their journey for others to see.
Another World: The Transcendental Painting Group is scheduled to remain on display through September 26, 2021, at the Albuquerque Museum, 2000 Mountain Road NW.