Picturing Healing Energy: Paintings by Agnes Lawrence Pelton

I’ve recently returned to painting and, searching for inspiration, ran across Agnes Pelton’s extraordinary transcendental paintings, images full of energy balanced with a cool serenity.  She has quickly become one of my favorite painters.

Pelton, Resurgence

Resurgence

Agnes Lawrence Pelton was born in 1881 to American parents, William and Florence Pelton, in Stuttgart, Germany. She spent her early childhood in Europe before moving to Brooklyn with her mother when she was seven. Florence Pelton ran The Pelton School of Music out of their home and kept food on the table by teaching piano, as well as German and French. William Pelton overdosed on morphine at his brother’s home in Louisiana when his daughter was nine.

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Awakening: Memory of Father, 1943

Agnes Pelton graduated from the Pratt Institute in 1900, continuing her study of painting with Arthur Wesley Dow, who also taught Georgia O’Keeffe. His emphasis on structure, imagination and non-naturalistic color deeply affected both women. Pelton referred to her early works as “imaginative paintings“, “moods of nature symbolically expressed” that exhibited humanity in harmony with nature and experimented with natural light. She often dressed in flowing gowns with flowers twisted into her hair and set up her studio in Greenwich Village, a hotbed for political radicals and avant-garde artists.

Pelton, Vine Wood, 1913

Vine Wood, 1910

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West Wind, 1915

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Room Decoration in Purple and Gray, 1917

In 1919, Pelton made a visit to Taos, New Mexico, as a guest of the colorful Mabel Dodge Luhan, who built the image and brand of “Southwestern Modernist Art” by inviting artists to her home and promoting their work. Here Pelton painted realistic portraits and romantic desert landscapes. These paintings honed her technique and sold and showed well, but her true calling was to paint inner visions rather than realistic representational scenes. Enchanted by the desert but, most likely, uncomfortable with fitting in to a commercial, mainstream artistic movement, especially one so aggressively shepherded by a personality like Luhan, she returned to New York to be near her mother. After Florence died in 1920, Pelton took up residence in a historic windmill on Long Island, seeking solitude and deeper abstraction, still heavily influenced by nature. It was here in the winter of 1926 that her first introspective, abstract paintings were born. She also traveled heavily, feeling herself to be a bit of a nomad. In 1932, the windmill was sold. Homeless at the age of 50, Pelton decided to travel across the country to Cathedral City, California, intending on a short stay. She would live out the rest of her life in the California desert.

Pelton, California Landscape near Pasadena

California Landscape near Pasadena, 1930

Pelton, Smoke Tree

Early Morning in the Wash, 1936

The vibration of this light, the spaciousness of these skies enthralled me. I knew there was a spirit in nature as in everything else, but here in the desert it was an especially bright spirit. 

Pelton, Star Grazer

Star Gazer, 1929

Pelton, The Voice

The Voice, 1930

Pelton, Untitled, 1931

Untitled, 1931

Pelton, Sea Change

Sea Change, 1931

Pelton, Messengers

Messengers, 1932

Pelton, Winter

Winter, 1933

In 1938, a group of artists based in Taos calling themselves the Transcendental Painting Group contacted Pelton. They were inspired and excited by her work and wondered if she would become their first president, sort of a patron saint for spiritual abstract painting. She accepted, and for five years she had an artistic community. The Transcendental Painters sought “to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through new concepts of space, color, light and design, to imaginative realms that are idealistic and spiritual.” The group broke up in 1943 as World War II made life difficult for everyone. Pelton’s work became more personal and abstract, and she receded not only from the art world, but from society in general. She had no interest in promoting her art, and died largely forgotten in 1961 at the age of eighty. Recently, her work has been rediscovered and promoted. I am very excited about a traveling exhibition originating at the Phoenix Museum of Art this spring called Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist. It will tour to the Whitney Museum in New York City, The New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe and to the Palm Springs Art Museum. I’d like to see it, wouldn’t you?

Pelton, Future, 1943

Future, 1941

 

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The Blest, 1941

Pelton, Prelude

Prelude, 1943

Pelton, Passion Flower, 1945

Passion Flower, 1945

What I love so much about Pelton’s painting is its serene luminosity. Her light is powerful and energetic but remains benevolent and nurturing. She had a profound interest in spirituality and in finding common ground with other cultures. Heavily influenced by numerology, spiritualism and yoga, her work lies at the beginning of what would become the New Age Movement There is something very feminine and abundant about the portrayal of her inner world. At a time when many modernist painters were paring things down to straight lines and redactive images, her work is refreshing in its roundness and expressivity. Organized and elegant, she never overwhelms the eye, although she has a lively sense of color. World War II must have been a great challenge, yet she remains strong and hopeful in her painting, as if presenting a vision of healthy humanity undimmed despite pain and difficulty. What a refreshing vision for any age!

Pelton, Ligh Center, 1961

Light Center, 1961

 

 

 

 

Quote for Today: Thích Nhất Hạnh

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If something negative comes to the surface, such as your despair and anger, or the despair and anger of your spouse, you need the energy of mindfulness to embrace it.

Breathing in, I know that anger is there in me.
Breathing out, I care for my anger.

This is like a mother hearing her baby cry out. She is in the kitchen, and she hears her baby wailing. She puts down whatever she has in her hands, goes into the baby’s room, and picks it up in her arms. You can do exactly the same thing–embrace the pain that is coming to the surface.

Breathing in, I know that you are there, my dear anger, my dear despair.
I am there for you; I will take care of you.
Thích Nhất Hạnh, You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment

 

Public Domain Image via PxHere

Quote for Today: Gary Zukav

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Every subatomic interaction consists of the annihilation of the original particles and the creation of new subatomic particles. The subatomic world is a continual dance of creation and annihilation, of mass changing into energy and energy changing into mass. Transient forms sparkle in and out of existence, creating a never-ending, forever newly created reality.

Gary ZukavThe Dancing Wu Li Masters

Public Domain Image via Pexels.com

Quote for Today: Boris Pasternak

Rejuvenation Seedling Tree Seedling Maple Seedling

Reshaping life! People who can say that have never understood a thing about life—they have never felt its breath, its heartbeat—however much they have seen or done. They look on it as a lump of raw material that needs to be processed by them, to be ennobled by their touch. But life is never a material, a substance to be molded. If you want to know, life is the principle of self-renewal, it is constantly renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself, it is infinitely beyond your or my obtuse theories about it.
Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

Public Domain Image via MaxPixel.com

Quote for Today: Christina Rasmussen

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I have lived in the shadow of loss—the kind of loss that can paralyze you forever.
I have grieved like a professional mourner—in every waking moment, draining every ounce of my life force.
I died—without leaving my body.
But I came back, and now it’s your turn.
I have learned to remember my past—without living in it.
I am strong, electric, and alive, because I chose to dance, to laugh, to love, and to
live again.
I have learned that you can’t re-create the life you once had—you have to
reinvent a life for yourself.

And that reinvention is a gift, not a curse.

Christina Rasmussen, Second Firsts: Live Laugh and Love Again 

Image © JIP with CCLicense

Quote for Today: Mary Elizabeth Frye

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Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Mary Elizabeth Frye

Image: Light’s Promise, Katherine McDaniel 2016

In loving memory of Lisa Sasabuki, 2000-2016, dear sweet cat and gentle spirit. I’ll never hear the wind in the leaves quite the same way. Ack and chirp over the rainbow bridge to your dear brother Nick. We love you so much.

Quote for Today: William S. Wilson

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We have, after all, an increase in the energy available for further evolution; we can use the energy of our position relative to the probabilities in the future to reach the future we desire. The full use of this energy is just beginning to be explored, and we have the opportunity open to few generations to create our best opportunities. We must not slacken in our desire now if we desire a future. The pressure of probabilities on the present increases the momentum of evolution, and as the voluble helix turns, and turns us away from our improbable satiation, we can see that the shadow cast on the present from the future is not black but rainbowed, brilliant with lemon yellow, plum-purple, and cherry-red. I have no patience with those who say that their desire for light is satisfied. Or that they are bored. I have myself a still unsatisfied appetite for green: eucalyptus, celadon, tourmaline, and apple.
William S. Wilson, “Desire”, Why I Don’t Write Like Franz Kafka
Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Quote for Today: Zeena Schreck

Many secular observers and spiritual practitioners alike mistake mystical chanting as a kind of anthropological curiosity or interesting musical diversion from secular mainstream entertainment, sometimes labeling it ‘world’ or ‘folk’ music. But uttering or chanting spells, mantras or prayers shouldn’t be regarded as a romantic excursion to a distant past, or faraway place, or as an escape from our everyday stresses, for relaxation or entertainment. These sounds are meant to be experienced as the timeless unity of energy currents. The chanting of ancient esoteric sounds enables us to realize we are never separate from the one continuously existing omnipresent vibration of the cosmos.