Agnes Pelton

Theme/Style – Symbolic Abstraction, Surrealism, desert landscapes

Media – Oils

Artistic Focus – Agnes Pelton’s work spanned the transition from romantic representational works, through the Modernist influences of the early 20th Century, and on to Abstraction and Surrealism––yet it always retained a style that was clearly her own. Considered a “quiet forerunner” of Modernism, Pelton differed from most Modernists in her conception of Abstraction “as a poetic alternative to realism that heightens our understanding of the world.” Pelton’s earliest works were both representational and imaginary in content. Her later works, which gradually evolved into greater levels of Abstraction, contained a number of common elements including a dominant, central, frontal iconic image, a monumental sense of scale, a vertical emphasis, a sense of drama, and a matte paint surface. Pelton also radiated color effects, often with an airbrush quality of color graduation and an illusion of transparency or translucency.

Career Highlights –

• While most Modernists “followed a path of theory and geometry, Pelton continued to pursue her vision and produce poetic abstractions, but her efforts were largely ignored by the art world.”
• In 1931, Pelton moved to Palm Springs, California.
• Her abstract works were a personal statement, but she was forced to earn a living by painting representational desert landscapes for tourists.
• Pelton’s canvases spoke of her reverence for nature and her acceptance of Transcendental philosophy, demonstrating her belief that “artistic creation is the metamorphosis of the external physical aspects of a thing into a self-sustaining spiritual reality.”
• Pelton spent the last 30 years of her life in the Palm Springs area, producing surreal scenes of the blooming desert as well as spiritual abstractions. She passed away in Cathedral City, California, in 1961.