This article appeared in Issue 03: 'Alchemy' (2022) of The Debutante; Feminist Surrealist Arts Journal , based in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Editors Molly Gilroy and Rachel Ashenden.
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Also available Issue 01: The Feminist Surrealist Manifesto Issue 01, The Feminist-Surrealist Manifesto, is a collage-like journal containing a wonderfully eclectic range of submissions from 15 contemporary artists and writers across the globe, including: chance encounters, automatic writing, photography, poetry and sculpture. It was launched in January 2020 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, amongst their surrealist collection.
Also Available Issue 02: Feminist Surrealist Odysseys (Co-edited by Dr. Kelsey Ashe) Issue 02 explores the structural journeys Feminist-Surrealists take across borders, seas and inner psychological landscapes to explore their own sur-reality, alongside confronting ecological and transnational crises.
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Messengers of the Hidden
“The forms and activities expressed are no doubt related to experience, but only as distillations and seen on that plane that is neither past nor future – perhaps aspects of both – where shadow may become as sound, and colour enhance to power or light to radiation.” (Pelton, 1929).
Agnes Pelton, “Messengers,” 1932, oil on canvas. (Palm Springs Art Museum)
When I read of your automatic writings to your deceased mother, I knew this was the way to reach you. Could you please join my inner-world-gathering of minds? I’m inviting this deep contemplation as a gift to myself on my 44th Birthday. They say your first Abstract transcendental paintings began in your 45th year, which was 1930. (Hirmer, 2020).
Dale Carnegie’s Mastermind theory taught me this technique many years ago. Of course, I know I must be careful to invite you in. I am aware of the strong psychic boundaries I will need to build. What will you tell me? How will you enrich my world? I want to know of your occulteries. What methods allowed you to access the other worlds? How did you see? What was your personal process of these images coming to you? Are they the same as mine? Will you tell me once we are inside? Thankyou.
AP: I kept a journal for 50 years.
KA: Agnes! Yes I do that too! What else, what else?
AP: I read Madame Blavatsky of course. I visited the Theosophical society. I read Wassily Kandinsky Concerning the spiritual in Art (1925). I adored the Kabbalah’s realms of pure divinity.
KA: They say you pursued the spiritual from a young age, is that true?
AP: I was always aware of nature’s hidden forces. I don’t remember a time of not knowing that, it was always just with me. As a child I made up my own spells and incantations and blessed my own talismans.
KA: Your images were painted before Kandinsky and Steiner developed their abstract impressions of hidden worlds. What was your method of bringing your metaphysical paintings into being?
AP: I studied sacred geometry and numerology and esoteric symbolism, but felt it the pictures intuitively. I sense an incredibly intricate dimension which forms and reforms, folds and collapses eternally. It glows and pulses. I would translate this in moments of calm connection to my environment. I guess you would call it a moving meditation.
KA: I find it so interesting that Messengers was your first Desert Abstraction – to me it could stand in for all of your work – it resonates with everything you yearned for. Can you talk about it?
AP: My works were portals, like little windows, opening on to the view of a place not much visited consciously or by intention back then – an inner realm of transcendence, rather than an outer landscape. Sometimes the view was peaceful, or sometimes active and stirring. I didn’t seek a semblance of material things or substances, except occasionally when a symbol materialises into a condensed form, like a glowing star – a potent spiritual presence.
KA: A new generation of women painters and curators have helped position your unique sensibility into the history books, almost 90 years after the paintings were made. How do you feel about your post-humous success?
AP: I never felt a need to show constantly or seek outward validation. It was always my own personal journey. Spiritual modernism is needed now though and I am grateful that my visions are being pulled out of the periphery and into the Art historical imagination. I hope they help you, I hope they inspire you.
KA: They do! I understand them. Thankyou, so much for speaking with me today in my inner mind-master meetings. Is there anything else you would like to say to your new audience?
AP: The world and nature is constantly presenting us with symbols. When you stay calm, and seek a state of aspiration and tranquility, those symbols and signs will remove the veil that hides our richer, higher plan of existence. Sleep and imagine your wings.