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The 1940s was an important transition period for the Taos art community. A group of modernist artists arrived who would set a new artistic course for a generation. Following World War II, Taos became an important crossroads in contemporary American art, a place where the influences of European and American modernism came together. Artists from New York and San Francisco, the cradles of post-war abstract painting, found in Taos a conducive place to work devoid of the distractions of the big cities. Many of the modernist artists arrived in Taos with little if any knowledge of the earlier artists, as if inexplicably drawn to the Town's inherently creative atmosphere. Many came to study under the G.I. bill.

Joining Andrew Dasburg as mentor to these new artists in 1939 was Thomas Benrimo, another early American modernist. New York artist Louis Ribak arrived in Taos in 1944 with his wife, painter Beatrice Mandelman, and emerged as a leader of the younger generation. Agnes Martin, now an internationally acclaimed artist came to Taos a few years later as a student with the University of New Mexico's summer Field School of Art. In the early 1950s, Clay Spohn, an abstract expressionist, and Edward Corbett, an artist with a growing reputation as a modernist, arrived from San Francisco. Their colleague, Richard Diebenkorn, although not a Taos resident, showed at the Town's premier art gallery, Galeria Escondida, as well as the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he received a Masters Degree in Art in 1951. In the same way that the Taos Art Colony in earlier decades attracted other artists to the area, these new artists were visited by their friends and associates, including such major figures as Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Clyfford Still and Morris Graves.

The influx of dozens of artists by the 1950s had established Taos as one of the centers of modernist artistic activity in the United States. In the middle part of the decade, a number of them began showing together in art galleries and museums and were collectively known as the Taos Moderns. Although they never created a formal group such as the Taos Society of Artists had done, they changed the artistic direction of the community.

Their paintings were either abstract, using subject matter, or non-objective compositions of pure form. The stark New Mexico landscape brightened their palettes just as it had that of earlier artists. Cultural influences continued to be important as well. The timelessness they perceived in Pueblo Indian culture and the deep connection to the land they noted in the everyday life of both Indians and Hispanics influence experimentation and innovation in their own art.

If there was any one guiding philosophy during this period, it was a commitment by artists to seek 'the new' in their visual imagery. Many of them were not content with depicting the surface beauty of the landscape or the figurative portraits done by earlier artists. Instead, they wanted to capture the underlying structure of a subject to reveal its true meaning.

Artist: Clay Spohn
Title: Mystery of Symbols - or Secrets of Isis
Date: 1952
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Overall: 26 3/16 x 31 7/8 in. (66.5 x 81 cm)
Clay Spohn (1898-1977)
Clay Spohn
Artist: Agnes Martin
Title: Nude
Date: 1947
Medium: Oil on cavnas
Dimensions: canvas: 20 × 16 × 3/4 in. (50.8 × 40.6 × 1.9 cm) Framed: 27 5/8 × 23 5/8 × 1 3/4 in. (70.2 × 60 × 4.4 cm)
Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
Agnes Martin
Artist: Howard Cook
Title: Our Studio - Harwood
Date: 1927-1928
Medium: Mixed media print, drybrush on paper
Dimensions: Overall: 8 15/16 x 12 9/16 in. (22.7 x 31.9 cm) frame: 14 1/4 x 18 1/4 in. (36.2 x 46.4 cm)
Howard Cook United States (1901 - 1980)
Howard Cook
Artist: Robert C. Ellis
Title: Paiseja
Date: 1950
Medium: Casein
Dimensions: Overall: 15 3/16 x 30 1/2 in. (38.5 x 77.5 cm)
Robert C. Ellis United States (1923-1979)
Born in Jackson, Texas, R.C. Ellis first began studying art through The University of New Mexico, Taos Summer Field School in 1942, where he met Andrew Dasburg whom he admired greatly. Ellis would have moved to Taos earlier if it had not been for WWII, and his service through the Coast Guard. After the war he returned to studying art at the New School of Social Research in New York in 1949, where he studied Abraham Rattner and Adja Yunkers (later one of the Albuquerque moderns). He would return to New Mexico the following year to study at the University of New Mexico and eventually obtaining his BFA in 1950. Most importantly to Ellis, between 1947 and 1953, he lived intermittently with the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Sierra Madre whose art he greatly admired. His ties to Mexico, which were as strong as those he felt for the Southwest, became even stronger with his 1957 marriage to Rosamaria Ramirez de Alba, a Mexican citizen. He was the only artist among the Taos Moderns to pursue his career in two countries showing his work on both sides of the border. He returned to Taos in 1961 as a resident of the Wurlitzer Foundation and again briefly in 1964, before finally settling in Taos in 1965.
His paintings from the 1940’s onward moved through Cubist and Abstract Expressionist influenced periods. In the 1950’s his interest in the nature of luminosity led him to try for a kind of stained glass effect. In later works he mosved to a more minimalist – type artwork in both his painting and print making.

His first solo exhibition was at Gump’s Gallery in San Francisco California in 1942 and from there is work was exhibited in Washington D.C., Tucson Arizona, Santa Fe NM, Albuquerque NM, Linsborg KS, Amarillo TX, The Panhandle Museum in Carson County TX, The Ellen Noel Art Museum of the Permain Basin, Odessa TX, and at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. He exhibited internationally in several galleried in Mexico, as well as at the Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno in Mexico City in 1964.

Ellis applied what he saw in the landscape, interpreting the lessons garnedred from his observations to create his compositions. Particularly by the time of his late work, he captured in paint, ink and other mediums the paradox of the desert, a surface that at first appears simple, but only because it’s true complexity is so well integrated into a flow of light and form. R.C. Ellis died in Albuquerque New Mexico in 1979.

Artist Biography.2015.203 Fine Art
Robert C. Ellis
Artist: Agnes Martin
Title: Personages
Date: 1952
Medium: Lithograph
Dimensions: 10 × 13 in. (25.4 × 33 cm)
Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
Agnes Martin
Artist: Louis Ribak
Title: Portrait of Bea Mandelman
Date: c. 1944
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Overall: 29 x 24 1/2 in. (73.7 x 62.2 cm)
Louis Ribak (1903-1979)
c. 1944
Louis Ribak
Artist: Robert D. Ray
Title: Portrait of The Honorable Dorothy Brett
Date: 1956
Medium: Oil painting, canvas
Dimensions: Overall: 60 1/4 x 31 7/8 in. (153 x 81 cm) frame: 61 x 32 1/2 in. (154.9 x 82.6 cm)
Robert D. Ray (1924 - 2002)
Dates in Taos: 1954
Robert D. Ray
Artist: Marsden Hartley
Title: Rio Grande River, New Mexico
Date: 1919
Medium: Pastel on paper
Dimensions: support: 17 1/2 x 27 3/4 in. (44.5 x 70.5 cm) frame: 25 3/16 x 35 1/2 x 1 3/4 in. (64 x 90.2 x 4.5 cm)
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)
Marsden Hartley
Artist: Ted Egri
Title: Struggle
Date: 1951
Medium: Wood carving of walnut
Dimensions: entire piece: 13 1/2 × 21 3/4 × 13 1/2 in. (34.3 × 55.2 × 34.3 cm)
Ted Egri (1913-2010)
Ted Egri
Artist: John Marin
Title: Taos Canyon
Date: 1930
Medium: Watercolor
Dimensions: 15 9/16 x 20 1/2 in. (39.5 x 52 cm) Framed: 21 3/4 × 27 × 1 3/8 in. (55.2 × 68.6 × 3.5 cm)
John Marin (1870-1953)
John Marin