Ann McCoy, Paulina Peavy and Olga Spiegel – The Brooklyn Rail
Andrew Edlin Gallery
Ann McCoy, Paulina Peavy and Olga Spiegel
From October 28 to December 3, 2022
I invoke supernatural beings
Who invented the first
In the stuff of life.
You did it for your own amusement.
Come back down, be happy to revive
This rebirth of these wonders…
—Tales of OvidTed Hughes
The Hilma af Klint exhibition at the Guggenheim and the art world’s growing desire for diversity and inclusion have opened the doors to dialogue with the immaterial realm. Modernism’s distaste for the mystical, the heretical, the spiritual and the divine is perhaps no longer the dominant feeling. In this astonishing exhibition, we discover the work of three women whose visionary practices show us lives lived in the service of a reflection on the immaterial. Although their philosophical explorations are different, McCoy, Peavy and Spiegel all work through personal cosmologies guided by forms of knowledge outside mainstream critical discourse. Peavy was in contact with entities on the astral plane, channeling an extraterrestrial being; Olga Spiegel, also a devotee of astro-culture, is part of a movement of visionary artists, and Ann McCoy is a fifty-year-old student of alchemy (she worked with Jung’s heir, Dr CA Meier for decades) whose art finds its origin in dreams and visions. Critical support for these practices is an exciting prospect. Paulina Peavy (1901–1999) has only recently been rediscovered by curators and scholars, and her 2021 Beyond Baroque was his first California exhibition in seventy-five years. Although McCoy and Spiegel are both in their 70s, their work has rarely been seen in New York since the 1990s. This long-awaited exhibition is a breathtaking discovery and a necessary rediscovery.
Ann McCoy’s large scale colored pencil drawing, Dream of the Invisible College (2018), fills an end wall. In the drawing, we see the artist asleep, surrounded by spirits, with the Invisible College presented as a church-like structure that one enters through the imagination. The Invisible College has been mentioned in Rosicrucian manifestos and is linked to alchemists like Robert Fludd, Michael Meier, Francis Bacon and John Dee. It represents a set of learning acquired through dreams rather than books. The artist believes that alchemical transformation has its origins in the unconscious and that alchemical processes describe the psychological stages of development. McCoy’s work exudes a rare blend of dedication to craftsmanship and scholarship. In this way, she resembles another Irish artist and alchemy student, Leonora Carrington. The level of detail in McCoy’s drawing is significant, the passage of time felt by each repetition of the pencil’s mark, yet the work floats ethereal in immeasurable dreamtime. This physical rooting and this immaterial attraction guide the spectator, apparently unmoored, on a journey of reverie.
In the second gallery we see some of Paulina Peavy’s later cartographic works, Untitled (1984) and a Fantasy from approx. 1980. Like McCoy, Peavy (1901–1999) was a student of esoteric teachings ranging from Rudolf Steiner to Theosophical writers like Annie Besant and Mrs. Alice A. Bailey and was involved in Los Angeles Theosophical study groups that included the painter Agnes Pelton. At the home of Ida L. Ewing in Santa Ana, California, she attended a seance in which she channeled an extraterrestrial presence named Lacamo. From then on, Lacamo guides his hand and paints his works to create a complex cosmology of cycles of four seasons and three thousand years. In its last winter phase, the cosmology included hermaphroditic beings. Blending abstract and natural forms, Peavey channeled the otherworldly into shimmering, luminous colors to convey poignant messages to humanity.
Olga Spiegel was born in Europe and trained in Old Master painting techniques with Ernst Fuchs, one of the founders of fantastic realism. She came to New York in the sixties and was influenced by surrealism, psychedelic art and science fiction, as well as astro-culture and space travel. Spiegel uses the word pareidolia – a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or sound) in which the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists – to describe its process. His canvases thus function like a crystal ball in which one looks as the forms emerge. Bordering surrealist techniques like blotting and frottage, his work merges abstract layers, organic forms and symbolic images. In the painting watch the light (1985), figures sit with their backs to the viewer, gazing intently at a world bathed in light, as if a gently glowing future spirit offers respite from the world of darkness.
Spiegel’s paintings appear intuitive rather than engaged with complex systems promoting a philosophical worldview like those of Peavy and McCoy. In the first case, cosmology ventures into the future, into a realm of ufology and in the second, an alchemical worldview spans medieval metaphysics and modern physics. What is remarkable about this exhibition is the unique dedication of each artist. Involving years of deeply personal, sometimes solitary exploration, these women bring us work that vividly explores the unseen life of life. As in Edwin Abbott’s Victorian science fiction novel Flatland: a multifaceted romance (1884), these works question the limits of dimensional prejudice, instead offering a speculative journey through an active expansion of the imaginary. Simply put, he feels marvellous.