Agnes Pelton - Desert Transcendentalist

Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalistis the first survey of this understudied painter in more than twenty-two years. Examining the artist’s work in relation to the movements of abstraction, surrealism, and art of the occult, this vibrant book sheds light on Pelton’s remarkable influence on American spiritual modernism.

Agnes Pelton became famous for her distinctive metaphysical landscape paintings rooted in the imagery of the American Southwest and California. Drawing chiefly on her own inspirations, superstitions, and beliefs, Pelton manifested emotional states in the form of ethereal veils of light, jagged rock forms, shimmering stars, and exaggerated horizons. Through these imaginary tableaus, she constructed a fantastic world that allowed her to make sense of that which is uncontrollable, establishing for herself a new universal order rooted in the natural world.

Born to American parents in Stuttgart, Germany, Agnes Pelton (1881-1961) and her family briefly lived in Basel, Switzerland before returning to the United States in 1888.  A graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, she began experimenting with abstraction in the early 1900's in New York, eventually exhibiting in the Armory Show of 1913 at the invitation of Walt Kuhn.

Intentionally moving away from the "mainstream" arts community, Agnes Pelton eventually settled in Cathedral City, California.  She painted conventional desert landscapes to make a living, but it was her abstract studies of earth and light, biomorphic compositions of delicate veils, shimmering stars and atmospheric horizon lines, that distinguished her work.  A believer in numerology, astrology and faith healing, Pelton's abstract compositions propelled her into an esoteric world epitomized by the Transcendental Painting Group (1938-1942), a short-lived group that promoted abstract, non-objective art.