In August, eight works by the Transcendental Painting Group were gifted to the New Mexico Museum of Art from the collection of William Dailey and Nicole Panter Dailey.
Founded by artists Raymond Jonson and Emil Bisttram in Taos in 1938, the small group was born during a unique period of New Mexico’s history: Modernists like Jonson and Bisttram were flocking to the Southwest, attracted to its natural beauty, diverse landscapes, and the freedom from the pressures of the metropolitan art scenes. While an early wave of artists like Andrew Dasburg, Joseph Henry Sharp, and Gustave Baumann specialized in work that realistically depicted the region, the Transcendentalists dedicated themselves to advancing abstract and nonobjective art, with a nod to the area they’d adopted.
In their manifesto, they wrote, “The word ‘Transcendental’ has been chosen as a name for the group because it best expresses the aims, which are: to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world through new concepts of space, light and design, upon planes that are termed idealistic and spiritual.”
Although short-lived — the movement was disbanded in 1942 — several of its members remained active in the region, influencing generations of artists to follow.
Member Robert Gribbroek was an illustrator, as well as a painter. (He was later known for his work for Warner Bros. Cartoons.) It could be argued that the broadly representational Beyond Civilization to Texas (1950, oil on canvas) reflects his point of view as an illustrator — but it still fits neatly in the Transcendental zeitgeist.
“There’s obviously a surreal quality to this, and it’s a little more realist than many of the other Transcendental paintings that we have,” said Merry Scully, the museum’s head of curatorial affairs and curator of contemporary art. “But there is still something kind of mystical about it, or it is expressing something beyond the simple representation, which was a core issue or belief for the Transcendentalists. Usually, through abstraction, they’d take painting to a place that was less tangible.”
Gribbroek lived in New Mexico on and off from 1929 until his death in 1971 at the age of 65.