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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.

Sorted AscendingTitleDateArtistClassificationDimensions
Hawthorn1963Ronald Davis
Ronald Davis (b. 1937)
painting
Impressions of a Landscapec. 1950Clay Spohn
Clay Spohn (1898-1977)
CLAY SPOHN (1898-1977), moved to Taos in 1951.

I do not believe in anything which restrains, limits or suppresses the spirit of man, or the spirit of his works, nor which binds his art to any conventionality of idea, theory, or method, or to conscientious and self-conscious description, or to that which would otherwise jeopardize the discovery of new experiences and awarenesses.

—Clay Spohn, 1953

Clay Spohn attended art schools in the Bay Area, New York City, and Paris, and exhibited regularly on the West Coast from the late 1920s. As a teacher at the progressive California School of Fine Arts, he promoted no particular “brand” of art but stressed the use of imagination. By the time he moved to Taos in the spring of 1951, Spohn’s work could be seen as a part of the broad category of abstract expressionism, although he repudiated the label. Spohn rejected the notion that the avant-garde painting of the New York School was radical enough to be absolutely unique and unrelated to preceding styles—a view held by some in Taos as well as in New York. He was a serious dissenter but also erratic; no doubt part of his charm derived from a certain contrariness—doing the unexpected and defying convention, sometimes merely to amuse his friends.

Spohn was clear about his work. In 1961, he explained his intentions to Taos Stables Gallery director Leone Kahl:

The whole statement lies purely in the physical aspect of the painting itself. The only subject matter intended is made up of the color involvements and interrelationships, together with paint texture and manner of brush strokes and other qualities, so arranged—it is hoped—to create a dramatic situation of these elements as an honest response to the artist’s experience of living. No literal meaning is intended or implied, but rather only feeling—meaning as a subjective and objective response. Any literal meaning the observer might interject or read into it is of the observer's own invention and choosing and not consciously or deliberately intended by the artist.

Spohn always spoke of his paintings in the present tense, as if they were underway at that very moment. He often worked on paintings for extended periods; he may have had trouble completing them to his satisfaction. (As late as 1971 he expressed his desire to rework a small group of his 1926 Paris abstractions.) His continuing concern was to create deep spatial relationships. He avoided single focal points and created fields of activity with open boundaries. In his paintings, no area is trapped or prevented from interacting with others. Vortices of forms pull the eye into places which seem far off. Spohn lived for the excitement of the artistic chase, as if for the sensation of constant movement. For him, there was not enough time to form lingering relationships with fixed styles.

Edited excerpt from David L. Witt, Taos Moderns: Art of the New (1992)
painting Overall: 21 15/16 x 27 7/8 in. (55.7 x 70.8 cm)
Mannequin1956Thomas Benrimo
Thomas Benrimo United States (1887-1958)
THOMAS BENRIMO (1887-1958), moved to Taos in 1939.

The flowing quality of design which Tom Benrimo subtly employs suggests a penetrating musical quality.

—Allen S. Weller, 1952

In an art community known for its reclusive artists, Thomas Benrimo stood out by his absence from the art scene in his early Taos years. He lived in Taos for over twelve years before sharing his work with the public for the first time in a group exhibition at the Hotel La Fonda in 1951.

Benrimo moved to Taos in 1939 on the strength of winning the Art Director Medal for Color Illustration award, an honor that included a $5,000 prize. He left New York’s Pratt Institute, where he had taught such courses as “Applied Surrealism” for commercial artists. A painter whose roots went back to the early days of American modernism, he now had the means to make the transition back into fine art, which he had abandoned in order to support his tubercular mother and brother.

His first artistic project in Taos, done in partnership with his wife, Dorothy Benrimo, a fine jeweler, was converting an old adobe ruin into a stately home. In his early Taos paintings, he attempted to regain the position that he had staked out more than 20 years earlier in New York. Little of his work from that period remains, but it is clear that the 1913 Armory Show deeply impressed him; he painted abstractions by 1918, if not before.

His Taos work included subject matter suggested by ancient Roman and Etruscan art and Greek vase painting, and also influenced by cubism. His facility for painting detail exceeded that of most artists, and his studies of modernist painting during his teaching career made him one of the best informed artists in the country. His teaching notes reveal a brilliant mind which welded together the many currents of modernism to make them understandable to his students. Benrimo's reputation was such that László Moholy-Nagy, an artist and founder of the New Bauhaus art school in Chicago, invited him to become the school’s director in the 1940s. But, by that time Benrimo had decided to devote the remainder of his life to painting.

During the war years, he concentrated on finely crafted surrealistic paintings. In the 1950s, Benrimo combined surrealism and strong structural form with lyrically tragic and passionate themes, as seen in late work such as White Moon #2 (ca. 1954).
Benrimo's work achieved national exposure when one of his paintings was included in the 1951 “Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture” exhibition at the University of Illinois. Asked to comment on his work for the catalog, he said (quoting author Charles Norman): “Feeling and form are all; and that man is most an artist who fuses those two into an indivisible one.”

Edited excerpt from David L. Witt, Taos Moderns: Art of the New (1992)
painting Framed: 42 5/8 × 42 1/4 × 1 1/4 in. (108.3 × 107.3 × 3.2 cm) image: 35 3/4 × 35 3/4 in. (90.8 × 90.8 cm)
Mountain Moods1954Ted Egri
Ted Egri (1913-2010)
painting Overall: 23 11/16 x 30 1/8 in. (60.1 x 76.5 cm) frame: 36 x 30 in. (91.4 x 76.2 cm)
Mystery of Symbols - or Secrets of Isis1952Clay Spohn
Clay Spohn (1898-1977)
CLAY SPOHN (1898-1977), moved to Taos in 1951.

I do not believe in anything which restrains, limits or suppresses the spirit of man, or the spirit of his works, nor which binds his art to any conventionality of idea, theory, or method, or to conscientious and self-conscious description, or to that which would otherwise jeopardize the discovery of new experiences and awarenesses.

—Clay Spohn, 1953

Clay Spohn attended art schools in the Bay Area, New York City, and Paris, and exhibited regularly on the West Coast from the late 1920s. As a teacher at the progressive California School of Fine Arts, he promoted no particular “brand” of art but stressed the use of imagination. By the time he moved to Taos in the spring of 1951, Spohn’s work could be seen as a part of the broad category of abstract expressionism, although he repudiated the label. Spohn rejected the notion that the avant-garde painting of the New York School was radical enough to be absolutely unique and unrelated to preceding styles—a view held by some in Taos as well as in New York. He was a serious dissenter but also erratic; no doubt part of his charm derived from a certain contrariness—doing the unexpected and defying convention, sometimes merely to amuse his friends.

Spohn was clear about his work. In 1961, he explained his intentions to Taos Stables Gallery director Leone Kahl:

The whole statement lies purely in the physical aspect of the painting itself. The only subject matter intended is made up of the color involvements and interrelationships, together with paint texture and manner of brush strokes and other qualities, so arranged—it is hoped—to create a dramatic situation of these elements as an honest response to the artist’s experience of living. No literal meaning is intended or implied, but rather only feeling—meaning as a subjective and objective response. Any literal meaning the observer might interject or read into it is of the observer's own invention and choosing and not consciously or deliberately intended by the artist.

Spohn always spoke of his paintings in the present tense, as if they were underway at that very moment. He often worked on paintings for extended periods; he may have had trouble completing them to his satisfaction. (As late as 1971 he expressed his desire to rework a small group of his 1926 Paris abstractions.) His continuing concern was to create deep spatial relationships. He avoided single focal points and created fields of activity with open boundaries. In his paintings, no area is trapped or prevented from interacting with others. Vortices of forms pull the eye into places which seem far off. Spohn lived for the excitement of the artistic chase, as if for the sensation of constant movement. For him, there was not enough time to form lingering relationships with fixed styles.

Edited excerpt from David L. Witt, Taos Moderns: Art of the New (1992)
painting Overall: 26 3/16 x 31 7/8 in. (66.5 x 81 cm)
Night Imagec.1963Louis Catusco
Louis Catusco United States (1927-1995)
A Navy veteran from World War II, Louis Catusco used his GI Bill benefits to study art at the Brooklyn Museum Art School in the 1940's. Of all the mystics, poets, eccentrics and visionaries among the Taos Moderns, Louis is the most enigmatic. In 1950 he came to Taos to work with Louis Ribak at the Taos Valley Art School, settling here permanently in 1963. After winning many awards, both local and state, Louis dropped out of the Taos art scene to continue his work in solitude. http://www.askart.com/artist/artist/11093175/artist.aspx

painting Overall: 14 in. (35.6 cm)
Night Phenomena1954Lawrence Calcagno
Lawrence Calcagno United States (1913-1993)
Lawrence Calcagno was born on March 23, 1913 in San Francisco, and passed away at the age of 80, in 1993. He began painting at the age of 19, and continued to use the medium throughout his life to describe the world around him. After serving in WW11, he painted in Paris under the G.I. Bill.
Calcagno began to show in San Francisco and New York as part of the second generation of Abstract Expressionist painters. His style ranges from meditative linear abstract landscapes to free-form abstract expressionism. http://www.askart.com/artist/Lawrence_Calcagno/85649/Lawrence_Calcagno.aspx
painting Overall: 41 15/16 x 59 15/16 x 16 1/2 in. (106.5 x 152.2 x 41.9 cm)
Nude1947Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin (1912-2004)
painting 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)
Our Studio - Harwood1927-1928Howard Cook
Howard Cook United States (1901 - 1980)
drawing 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)
Paiseja1950Robert C. Ellis
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 http://www.203fineart.com/Robert_C_Ellis.html
painting Overall: 15 3/16 x 30 1/2 in. (38.5 x 77.5 cm)