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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.

TitleDateArtistClassificationSorted AscendingDimensions
Three Indian Women (Three Witches)1949Dorothy Eugenie Brett
Dorothy Eugenie Brett Great Britain (1883 - 1977)
Dorothy Eugénie Brett was a British painter, remembered as much for her social life as for her art. Born into an aristocratic British family, she lived a sheltered early life. During her student years at the Slade School of Art, she associated with the Bloomsbury group. Among the people she met was novelist D. H. Lawrence, and it was at his invitation that she moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1924. She remained there for the rest of her life, becoming an American citizen in 1938. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Brett

Her work can be found in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C., in the Millicent Rogers Museum and the Harwood Museum of Art, both in Taos, at the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, New Mexico and in many private collections. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Brett

painting Overall: 24 x 11 15/16 in. (60.9 x 30.3 cm)
From the Seas that are Southn.d.Wolcott Ely
Wolcott Ely (1923-2004)
painting Overall: 24 x 32 in. (61 x 81.3 cm) Framed: 29 x 37 in. (73.7 x 94 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)
Elements of Spring: The Rains1952Clay 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: 27 15/16 x 32 5/16 in. (71 x 82 cm)
Bultoc.1940Patrociño Barela
Patrociño Barela United States (1902 - 1964)
Patrociño Barela worked most of his life as a wood carver in Taos, New Mexico. As a santero (an artist who creates sacred images), Barela is recognized by New Mexico's living artists as a major source of inspiration. His carvings are not only expressive of the rich Hispano heritage within which he created, but artistically his works display parallels to Romanesque art, Modern art, as well as to the primitive art of other world cultures. http://www.laplaza.org/art/barela/
sculpture Overall: 27 3/16 x 17 11/16 in. (69 x 45 cm)
Portrait of Bea Mandelmanc. 1944Louis Ribak
Louis Ribak (1903-1979)
LOUIS RIBAK (1903-1979), moved to Taos in 1944.

In his first show in eight years [Louis Ribak] reports from Mexico and the Southwest with added strength and color. There is new freedom with emphasis on forms as such rather than on objects ...

—New York Times, May 1954

Beginning with work that was included in the 1934 Venice Biennale and continuing with his social realist painting of the 1930s, Louis Ribak captured vibrant images of urban life with considerable power. He was making an important career when, in 1944, he abandoned New York for Taos with his wife, Beatrice Mandelman. Various reasons have been suggested for the move: Ribak’s health; John Sloan's suggestion that the couple move to New Mexico; and their general disenchantment with New York. All these were probably contributing factors, but, since there was a good deal of wanderlust in Ribak, perhaps he just needed a change. As curator Harry Rand observed in the catalog of a 1984 exhibition of Ribak’s late paintings,

Something entirely unsuspected gripped Ribak in the Southwest and he was never able to disenthrall himself from the heady solemnity of the landscape, its beauty or emotive potential.

Ribak's approach shifted from social realism to full abstraction during his Taos years. Much of his early Taos work consists of semi-abstract landscapes, artistically descended from the paintings of American artist Albert P. Ryder. In Ryders’ work there is a living aspect to the environment in which humankind is not isolated, but is instead an intimate part. Ribak seems to have brought this concept with him from New York but, under the powerful influence of contact with New Mexico's pueblos, it was dramatically reinforced, expanded, and adapted to the changed circumstances of his life. He had to change to meet the demands of the new environment. Mandelman later said, “We had to start all over again. We spent the first couple of years painting the landscape” as a means of coming to understand the West.

Highly respected by his peers, Ribak was looked up to by the Taos Moderns as “an elder compadre,” a role model. In 1947, he opened the Taos Valley Art School for returning veterans who used their GI Bill benefits to pay tuition and living expenses. In addition to attracting beginners, mature artists who needed no training used the stipend to enable them to continue painting and drawing. Ribak, like Andrew Dasburg, offered no ideology to his students: “I’m not truly anything. I’m against everything. Damned abstract[ionist]s, realists, illustrators …” He condemned taking any single approach—he believed this would lead to academicism, an art of deadness, whether abstract or representational.

Ribak was well-acquainted with the work of the abstract expressionists and knew artists of the New York School. In the mid-1950s, Mandelman and Ribak sojourned in New York, then returned to Taos. From that time, Ribak developed the lyrical abstract expressionism that would occupy much of his subsequent career. Movement No. 1 and Movement No. 2 are examples. The flowing calligraphy evident in much of his work developed from decades of landscape drawings. His abstract paintings seem not to have come from cubism so much as out of his own preoccupation with working directly from nature.

Edited excerpt from David L. Witt, Taos Moderns: Art of the New (1992).
painting Overall: 29 x 24 1/2 in. (73.7 x 62.2 cm)
Untitledc.1952Edward Corbett
Edward Corbett (1919-1971)
EDWARD CORBETT (1919-1971), moved to Taos in 1951.

I intend my work as poetry. 56

—Edward Corbett, 1952

Edward Corbett believed, with the rest of the abstract expressionists, that the value of art is intrinsic. He reflected on his own intentions as a painter and an intellectual at grips with ideas that dominated his world at the time:

I knew that I had to find a way of painting that I could do as well as [the Europeans] did their Surrealism and Cubism … and I had to literally work towards a discovery. I didn’t know what I was working towards. It was a mystery. The end was there but it was imagined. The end. I could imagine without knowing what it looked like in the painting … 57

By the time he was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1952 “15 Americans” exhibit, Corbett had found the imaginative track he would continue to follow. The process began with his childhood in the Southwest and continued through his time as a student, and later a teacher, at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco. 58 He made his first visit to Taos as early as 1947 and relocated there
in 1951. 59

Corbett completed only four or five paintings during his 20 years in Taos; the balance of his works were drawings in charcoal, chalk, pastel, pencil, and occasionally, casein. He started painting by placing colors on the canvas and then gradually eliminating or lessening them by covering them with white. 60 The canvases are filled with almost imperceptible detail. These paintings provided the structural and thematic basis for his later work.


According to Corbett, “Abstract appearances are seen, the matter is felt, the experience is emotionalized, and through continual experience the symbol is formed.” 61 Abstract appearances—suggested by the land and by architectural forms that grow out of nature—led him to a symbology of the land, not landscape pictures. Corbett, however, was equivocal about the natural environment as a catalyst for art. He wrote, “I admit to being influenced by not only nature out-of-doors, but nature within,” and concluded, “If sources of nature exist, I trust they do not influence the painting.” 62 Perhaps this denial of the influence of natural forms served as a defense measure: fully abstract work could have lost some of its magic if described with words such as “this is a cliff.”


Whatever they were based on, Corbett’s images suggest the fullness of night, heavy snow, deep canyons, stark light; subtle hues fill paper and canvas with considerable life force, the understated vigor of immensely rugged land overflowing with delicacies of color and movement and light flashes. In his Taos drawings, the interplay of negative and positive creates depth; their soft-edged forms interlock in a lyric poetry of form. His work, often in grays and browns, shows that the successful use of hue is a matter of making combinations and relationships rather than the degree of pigment saturation. Corbett’s exacting drawings create the tension of anticipation, “not the experience of possessing an event, but a mystery … about what might happen.” 63 [cite source]


Edited excerpt from David Witt, Taos Moderns (1992)
painting Overall: 34 x 27 in. (86.3 x 68.6 cm) frame: 45 1/2 x 35 1/2 in. (115.6 x 90.2 cm)
White Painting1957Edward Corbett
Edward Corbett (1919-1971)
EDWARD CORBETT (1919-1971), moved to Taos in 1951.

I intend my work as poetry. 56

—Edward Corbett, 1952

Edward Corbett believed, with the rest of the abstract expressionists, that the value of art is intrinsic. He reflected on his own intentions as a painter and an intellectual at grips with ideas that dominated his world at the time:

I knew that I had to find a way of painting that I could do as well as [the Europeans] did their Surrealism and Cubism … and I had to literally work towards a discovery. I didn’t know what I was working towards. It was a mystery. The end was there but it was imagined. The end. I could imagine without knowing what it looked like in the painting … 57

By the time he was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1952 “15 Americans” exhibit, Corbett had found the imaginative track he would continue to follow. The process began with his childhood in the Southwest and continued through his time as a student, and later a teacher, at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco. 58 He made his first visit to Taos as early as 1947 and relocated there
in 1951. 59

Corbett completed only four or five paintings during his 20 years in Taos; the balance of his works were drawings in charcoal, chalk, pastel, pencil, and occasionally, casein. He started painting by placing colors on the canvas and then gradually eliminating or lessening them by covering them with white. 60 The canvases are filled with almost imperceptible detail. These paintings provided the structural and thematic basis for his later work.


According to Corbett, “Abstract appearances are seen, the matter is felt, the experience is emotionalized, and through continual experience the symbol is formed.” 61 Abstract appearances—suggested by the land and by architectural forms that grow out of nature—led him to a symbology of the land, not landscape pictures. Corbett, however, was equivocal about the natural environment as a catalyst for art. He wrote, “I admit to being influenced by not only nature out-of-doors, but nature within,” and concluded, “If sources of nature exist, I trust they do not influence the painting.” 62 Perhaps this denial of the influence of natural forms served as a defense measure: fully abstract work could have lost some of its magic if described with words such as “this is a cliff.”


Whatever they were based on, Corbett’s images suggest the fullness of night, heavy snow, deep canyons, stark light; subtle hues fill paper and canvas with considerable life force, the understated vigor of immensely rugged land overflowing with delicacies of color and movement and light flashes. In his Taos drawings, the interplay of negative and positive creates depth; their soft-edged forms interlock in a lyric poetry of form. His work, often in grays and browns, shows that the successful use of hue is a matter of making combinations and relationships rather than the degree of pigment saturation. Corbett’s exacting drawings create the tension of anticipation, “not the experience of possessing an event, but a mystery … about what might happen.” 63 [cite source]


Edited excerpt from David Witt, Taos Moderns (1992)
painting Overall: 36 1/4 x 43 in. (92.1 x 109.2 cm) Framed: 37 1/4 x 44 1/8 x 1 7/16 in. (94.6 x 112.1 x 3.6 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)
Bouquetc.1950-1960Louise Ganthiers
Louise Ganthiers (1907-1982)
LOUISE GANTHIERS (1907-1982), moved to Taos in 1950.

From a study of these paintings it appears obvious that the artist is heading toward a completely non-objective type of painting … her work demonstrates how a serious painter holds the mental conception within the bounds of plastic color. 46

—Alfred Morang, 1952 [cite source]

Louise Ganthiers came to Taos with the hope of becoming an artist. An administrator in a textile business, she had a longstanding interest in art and studied with the figurative-fantasy artist Rufino Tamayo in New York. In Taos, she became familiar with the artistic concepts of Hans Hofmann, and applied the results of all her training to her work. 47 In a statement about her relationship to art, she said:

I don't paint with ease. I wish I were capable of the smashing directness of some of my contemporaries. Some of these sketches have that quality. In carrying them further will I move toward the lyric, the muted understatement of the beautiful and gentle? I have been struggling to reach further into the abstract to break up forms in new ways to fix a space dimension on the canvas that has not been my approach. Yet if I find that I am saying something that infers crassness or harshness I won’t be happy. I have tried to speak in different ways against tragedy, injustice and waste but my way is not that of harshness. 48 [cite source]

Ganthiers waged a struggle on both artistic and economic fronts. In the 1950s, she sold frozen custard to Taos tourists during the summer; she also went to San Francisco to find work and to show her paintings. There her paintings caught the attention of prominent art critic Alfred Frankenstein, who wrote several reviews of her work over the years. He may have seen the encaustic painting Buffalo Dancer (1954). There is an undeniable wildness to the figure which seems to be of another world. The dancer clearly has merged with the animal spirit. Frankenstein wrote:

Miss Ganthiers … is a painter who likes a rich, complex impasto, lays on her color most often with the palette knife, and brings off whatever she does with great skill and finely imaginative design. Her abstractions are excellent, but most striking of all are her pictures derived from the Indian dances she has seen in Taos, where she lives. Her big single figures are magnificently drawn, and her studies of group choreography handle the rhythms, the color, and the mysterious character of their subjects equally well … [It is refreshing] to see this theme handled by a creative artist who brings it genuine imagination, selectivity and power over the expressive values of paint. 49 [cite source]

Edited excerpt from David Witt, Taos Moderns (1992)
painting Overall: 45 15/16 x 24 3/16 in. (116.7 x 61.4 cm) Framed: 46 7/8 x 25 1/8 x 1 1/4 in. (119.1 x 63.8 x 3.2 cm)