The exhibition also includes two portraits, Intimation (1933) and Barna Dilae (1935), which are more ghoulish than lifelike. The former, which may be based on spiritual leader Nicholas Roerich, features haunting, unreal, wide-open yellow and blue eyes. There’s a light insidiousness in depicting a fringe religious leader as an idealized spirit—that’s the kind of perspective that could lead to cult worship.
Despite Pelton’s appreciation of mysticism, she remained a devout Christian throughout her life. “She always adhered to her family’s core Christian belief that the world is God’s precious gift and the purpose of life is to pursue the good,” writes Michael Zakian in the exhibition catalogue. That sentiment, which can do good for communities when turned outward, becomes cloying in modern art. If artists believe all they’ve been told, there’s no room for questioning or productive discomfort in their work.