Ancestral Spirits, 1919
John Sloan (1871-1951)
oil on canvas
Gift of Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett, 1920
John Sloan's Ancestral Spirits captures his responses to the activity of a Pueblo dance. In this painting, ritual clowns seem to spill down the stairway leading from the rooftop entrance of a kiva, a Pueblo ceremonial chamber. Sloan blends these figures into a single mass of abstracted motion.
Earlier Southwestern paintings of ethnographic scenes and religious rituals centered on realistic descriptions of the events. Modernist interpretations focused on abstract visual qualities—color, motion, and rhythm. Evocative, highly personal, and emotive responses to the New Mexico's cultural landscape quickly dominated the paintings by the Santa Fe modernists during the post-World War I period.