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 Horace Towner Pierce  (1916 - 1958)

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Lived/Active: California/New Mexico/Colorado / Mexico      Known for: biomorphic non objective painting, illustration, film making

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Horace Towner Pierce was a resident of New Mexico early in his career, and living there was a member of the Transcendental Painting Group (TPG), which formed in 1938.  TPG was a group of painters dedicated to non-objective painting at a time when that style was virtually unknown in the Southwest.

In 1936, Pierce had gone to Taos to study with Emil Bisttram, who taught meditation-inspired painting at his Taos Art School.  Relative to working with Bisttram, Pierce was described as "one of Bisttram's young idealistic students" (Blankenship, 42).  He grew up in a household with a Quaker stepmother and a highly intelligent father, who was a research chemist and who suffered much deafness.  In 1925, when Horace was nine years old, his family moved to Baltimore, Maryland where he later briefly attended the Maryland Institute of Art.

His first trip to New Mexico included the enrollment with Bisttram in Taos, and also led to his marriage two years later to Florence Miller of Washington DC, whom he had met in the art class.

Through the influence of Bisttram, both Florence and Horace Pierce were "exposed to the search for a non-objective art that left behind past traditions and embarked on new concepts of consciousness." (42)  As a result Horace Pierce "developed visual figures predicated upon primary shapes such as the circle and spiral for the purpose of expressing universal themes.  He became interested in the logarithmic spiral and mathematical proportions, which were believed by many to represent the basis of all life cosmically."(42)

TPG writer Alfred Morang later wrote of Pierce during that period that he "gets an element of the life force struggling with material limitations into his non-objective paintings . . . seems to compose his intensely colored paintings with a knowledge of the ultimate triumph of sheer beauty."

However, Pierce's enthusiasm for non-objective art diminished and by the end of the 1930s, he had concluded that easel painting was dead and that the future of art was in film.  In 1939, with the airbrush he created for an animated film, Spiral Symphony, thirty images that were shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, in 1939." (Purdue)  The Jonson Gallery in Albuquerque has many of those images in its collection.  Influential to these watercolors, however, were theories of the same P.D. Ouspensky and Wassily Kandinsky who were so influential on Bisttram and devotees of non-objective painting.

In April 1940, Horace and Helen Pierce moved to New York City where they hoped to secure money for Spiral Symphony.  They were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in a 1940 show titled "American Design for Abstract Films", and this exposure, with the help of composer Leopold Stokowski, led to Pierce's work being incorporated in the 1940 Walt Disney film, Fantasia.

That same year, the Pierces moved to Silver Springs, Maryland where they moved in with her parents, as the artist couple was still struggling financially.  Two years later they moved to Los Angeles to be near the film making industry.  In this environment, they also met other artists who had been in New Mexico including Robert Gribbroeck and William Lumpkins.

In 1944, Pierce began serving in the U.S. Army, but was released after 90 days for health-related reasons.  Then he worked with Gribbroek at Disney Studios, who had a contract for technical illustration for Douglas Aircraft.  In 1946, the Pierces returned to New Mexico, settling first in Albuquerque and then in Santa Fe because of that location being a better place of serving their goal of creating Indian motif fabric designs with airbrushes.  However, his health worsened, and they were unable to accomplish their plans.  In 1949, they returned to Albuquerque where he worked as a technical illustrator for the U.S. Army Crops of Engineers.  Nine years later, Horace Towner Pierce, while still with the Corps of Engineers, died.

Tiska Blankenship, Vision and Spirit: The Transcendental Painting Group, Jonson Gallery Exhibition Catalogue, May 27-August 15, 1997

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