Project Description

Agnes Pelton


In the creation of her art, Pelton was interested in creating abstractions that reflected her spiritual interests. Alchemy contains imaginative forms that evoke spiritual or cosmological energy and connotations. The ray of blue light coming from a shell-like object illuminates two wing-shaped forms. In between the wings, a bright light shines through a diamond-shaped opening. The dark yellow circular object in the lower part of the canvas resembles the Byzantine motif of Jesus sitting on the earth. The title Alchemy, referring to the Medieval mystical pseudoscience that claimed to transform common materials into precious metals, suggests that Pelton may here be representing a process of transformation of matter. She illustrates the process as a sacred procedure by putting halo-like light spreading out from the transforming object.

Pelton’s abstract artwork was influenced by Arthur Wesley Dow, who she assisted during his summer school courses. Dow taught her to emphasize the spirit, creation, and imagination. When she decided to settle in California in 1932, she felt the spirit in nature and was captivated by the quality of the light and the vast skies. Pelton’s spirituality was also greatly influenced by Agni Yoga (aka inner light-fire) founded by Helena and Nicholas Roerich focus on awakening individual spirit. Pelton’s abstract artworks reflect her interest in spirituality in a way that is rather personal and reflective of her inner spirit.


Artist: Agnes Pelton
Title: Alchemy
Date: 1937–39 
Medium: Oil on canvas
Type: Abstraction
Dimension: 36 1/4 x 26 in. (92.08 x 66.04 cm)
Collection: The Buck Collection at the UCI Institute and Museum for California Art