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1 Emil Bisttram, Ed Garman, Robert Gribbroek, Lawren Harris, Raymond Jonson, William Lumpkins, Agnes Pelton, Florence Miller Pierce, Horace Towner Pierce, and Stuart Walker were the artists who comprised the group, and Dane Rudhyar, avant-garde composer and humanist astrologer, was instrumental in the theoretical development. Jonson and Bisttram were the major organizers of the group.
Raymond Jonson (1891-1982), the son of a Swedish Baptist minister, was the cofounder of the TPG. A pioneer modernist, he began his career with the Chicago Little Theatre (1913-1917), where he developed a minimal aesthetic for stage design. He became internationally known for his lighting effects. Jonson saw the 1913 Armory Show in Chicago, and in 1921 he read Kandinsky's The Art of Spiritual Harmony and met Russian mystic and painter, Nicholas Roeric (1874-1947) who supported Theosophy's ideals. After moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1924 to pursue his painting career, he began his work with abstract landscapes and quickly moved toward non-objective painting. He is credited with bringing modern art concepts to New Mexico. He began teaching in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico in 1934 and founded Jonson Gallery at the University in 1950.
Emil Bisttram (1895-1976), cofounder of the TPG and a strong proponent of Dynamic Symmetry, moved from Hungary to the U.S. with his parents in 1906. He studied art in night classes and taught at Parsons School of Design and the Roerich Museum's New York Institute of United Arts (Corona Mundi). In 1931 he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship to study in Mexico with muralist Diego Rivera, and in 1932 he opened his Taos New Mexico School of Art. He had begun to experiment with Kandinsky's ideas as early as 1931, but it was not until he began to observe Native American art in 1933 that he became seriously interested in abstraction.
Lawren Harris (1885-1970) was philosophically influenced by his grandfather, a Presbyterian minister, and by Theosophy. He served as vice president for Toronto's Theosophical Society and was an international member-at-large. As a painter he was a member of The Group of Seven which organized to promote the Canadian landscape and a nationalistic point of view. The Group of Seven is considered historically to be Canada's most notable art group, and Harris is one of Canada's most celebrated artists. He lived in Santa Fe from early 1938 until 1940, when he was compelled to return to his homeland because of World War II.
Agnes Pelton (1881-1961) (see biography).
Stuart Walker (1904-1940) became interested in abstract landscape studies in 1930. This led to his shift to non-objective canvases, which was brought about in part after becoming familiar with Kandinsky's Bauhaus works. He developed a distinctive style with affinities to Art Deco. Unfortunately he died young and had explored his non-objective works for less than ten years.
William Lumpkins (b. 1908), the group's only native New Mexican, grew up on a remote ranch in New Mexico, where a tenant on the ranch taught him about Zen-Buddhism. This philosophy influenced the rest of his life. Although a painter for many years, he had not seen an abstract painting until 1930, when he saw one by his new friend, Stuart Walker. In 1931 when he viewed modernist painter Jolin Marin's work in New Mexico, he perceived many similarities to his own work and began his life-long pursuit of non-objective images.
Horace Towner Pierce (1916-1958), who had been raised a Quaker, went to Taos to study with Bisttram in 1936. There he met another young student, Florence Miller, whom he married in April 1938. Pierce came to believe that easel painting was dead and that the future of art was in film. In 1938, with the airbrush he created for an animated film, Spiral Symphony, thirty images that were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, in 1939.
Florence Miller Pierce (b. 1918)) (see biography).
Robert Gribbroek (1906-1971) traveled to New Mexico in 1929 and remained with an Isleta Pueblo family off and on for several years, during which time he met and became good friends with Lumpkins. He moved to Taos late in 1936 and enrolled in Bisttram's school, where he became good friends with the Pierces and became one of Bisttram's best students. Shortly after the start of the war, he worked as a technical illustrator in Los Angeles. Eventually he found his way into film animation, working with Looney Tunes at Warner Brothers.
Ed Garman (b. 1914), from a Mennonite background, grew up in the Appalachia of eastern Pennsylvania. Originally his studies focused on theater design at the University of New Mexico, but later he traveled to museums and other countries to learn about art. At the Art Institute of Chicago in 1935 he saw a Kandinsky Improvisation, and in Mexico in 1936/1937 he met with muralist painter Orozco to explore the approach of the Mexican Muralists. In 1938 he read The Art of Spiritual Harmony and adopted Plato's theories before joining the TPG in 1941.
Dane Rudhyar (1895-1985), although never a member of the TPG, was a significant figure in the group's theoretical foundation and in promoting its goals. He had a strong base in Theosophy, as well as an interest in Buddhist tenets and humanist astrology. First and foremost an avant-garde composer and philosophical writer, he learned to paint under the guidance of Jonson in 1938.
2 Raymond Jonson, classroom lecture "Quality and Freedom," University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, 12 January 1949. Jonson Gallery Archives.
3 Joseph Traugott and Cindy Leyba, NEA Oral History interview with Florence Miller Pierce, Albuquerque, 5 September 1991, p.60. Jonson Gallery Archives.
4 The theosophic movement, founded in New York in 1875 by Mme. Helena Petrovena Blavatsky (1831-1891), incorporated her personal theories and the synthesis of many Eastern philosophies into a movement that spread swiftly throughout the Western world. Before World War I, in the Netherlands alone, there were an estimated 100,000 proponents of the movement. Theosophy synthesized the world's religious tenets and mystical investigations into a general theory (not a religion) that they hoped would grow and ultimately be shared by the brotherhood of humanity. The overall goal was to achieve spirituality on individual yet universal terms.
5 Daisetz T. Suzuki, Zen and Art, Art News, Christmas Edition, Part II, (November 1957-1958): 114. In essence, Zen is a method of self-training that leads to an understanding of one's relationship to reality. Its basic idea is that one can discipline his or her mind so that he or she learns the inner workings of his or her being. He or she aims to grasp intuitively what he or she cannot grasp rationally.
6 Dynamic Symmetry was a system of space division developed by artist Jay Hambidge, that according to Bisttram, "helped the artist to create order out of chaos."
7 Artists whose work could be considered to fit into transcendental parameters would be Agnes Martin (USA), Gunther Gerzso (Mexico), and Caio Fonseca (USA).