White Fire
Agnes Pelton, c.1930, Oil on canvas, 25.5 x 21, 82.221.1949
Gift of Ed Garman, Bequest of Raymond Jonson


While stylistically varied, the TPG works clearly convey the concepts behind transcendental painting, making visible the invisible. A transcendental painting often involves the use of unique and eccentric non-objective shapes that may be geometric, biomorphic, or both, that are located within a created environment that is a non-referential space, often perceived as an atmospheric field. The most important part of the painting is the artist's intention to transcend the materials and conventional understandings to establish a sense of idealism and the spiritual. Through the created art icon and the viewer's receptivity, the artist offers a perspective for the betterment of human society.

Pelton and Pierce contributed to the group in different ways. Pelton, as an established artist who had studied with Arthur Wesley Dow and who had exhibited in the 1913 Armory show, brought her remarkable stature to the group, thereby enhancing the validity and depth of its perspective. She was unanimously invited and accepted into the group because of her defining work that since her 1930's abstractions had actually fulfilled transcendental goals. Pelton's luminous images emanate light through uniquely organic forms that lie on the edge of waking. As totally inspired canvases, one senses that she communed with the enlightened ones. It is no wonder that her work mesmerized Jonson, as well as the other group members and Rudhyar.

Pierce, at the tender age of nineteen, was the youngest member. Yet, she was her own force as she grew into a developed artist with her own talents and perspectives. It must have been somewhat intimidating in the TPG meetings to be around the articulate, determined Jonson and Bisttram, her mentor. She soon hit her stride in 1941-1946 and produced exemplary transcendental works that utilized dynamic forms centered in atmospheric backgrounds. Still working, her work has evolved into shimmering wall sculptures of resin that continue to reflect her serious interest in the physical and philosophical dimensions of light.

Both artists' works were unique from the other members' and from each other. If anything might compare, perhaps it is the centrality of forms on the canvas and an organic sensibility, aspects also shared in works by other members. After the paintings, perhaps Pelton's and Pierce's most outstanding contribution was that two women were participating in this important group, therefore establishing a foothold for women artist's of the future. They were not token women artists, nor were they trying to make a point. They simply were good artists who shared an interest in the goals of the TPG. Their membership in the group was never questioned, it was celebrated.

Transcendental painting continues to be significant today(7) because, just as during the time of the formation of the group, our world is in crisis and in need of a healing perspective. It is not surprising to see an increasing interest in spirituality as a way to restore quality back into the culture and lives of our human existence. In the history of the world, the function of art has often been to serve as a conveyor of spiritual hope. Today there is a hunger for something to guide the human crowd back to its humanity. This hunger makes the principles of integrity behind transcendental painting absolutely current.

Adapted from the exhibition catalogue, Vision and Spirit: The Transcendental Painting Group, 1997. Catalogue essay by Ed Garman, TPG member. Introduction by Tiska Blankenship, Jonson Gallery Curator, University of New Mexico Art Museums. (Catalogue includes 72 pp., 21 color and 44 b/w reproductions, and biographies of each TPG member as well as Dane Rudhyar).

Essay · Gallery · Biographies







All text © Tiska Blankenship
All images © Collection of the Jonson Gallery
of the University of New Mexico Art Museums, Albuquerque