Stanton Macdonald-Wright’s Electricity

Stanton Macdonald-Wright was one of America’s leading modernist painters and an early pioneer of abstract art. Born in Virginia and raised in southern California, he settled in Paris in 1907, studying at the Sorbonne and exhibiting at the Salon d’Automne and at the Salon des Indépendents. Together with fellow American expatriate Morgan Russell, he co-founded the avant-garde painting movement Synchromism, which produced luminous and rhythmic compositions of swirling and serpentine forms infused with a rich chromatic palette. As Macdonald-Wright later described it, “Synchromism simply means ‘with color’ as symphony means ‘with sound’, and our idea was to produce an art whose genesis lay, not in objectivity, but in form produced in color”.

After repatriating himself to the United States in 1915, Macdonald-Wright resided in New York, where he participated in the Forum Exhibition in 1916 and had his first one-man show at Alfred Stieglitz’s “291” gallery in 1917. Having become dissatisfied with what he saw as the “sterile artistic formulism” of modern art and the “academicism” of his own work, Macdonald-Wright permanently resettled in Santa Monica in 1919 and withdrew from the commercial art scene, working primarily as a teacher (UCLA, USC, Scripps College) and as a director (Art Students League, WPA Art Project). During this same period, he wrote a student textbook on color theory and continued his artistic pursuits, which turned heavily toward Eastern representational models, especially Chinese painting. After a hiatus of more than thirty years, Macdonald-Wright returned to nonobjective painting in the mid 1950s with renewed vigor and enthusiasm, producing some of his finest canvases. These Neo-Synchromist works surpassed the artist’s earlier paintings by way of a heightened luminosity and augmented spatiality, creating as a result a deeper spirituality.