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Modern Mysticism

Unlike his compatriot Wassily Kandinsky, Russo-German Blaue Reiter painter Alexei von Jawlensky stayed an expressionist all his life, evolving toward abstraction but never quite letting go of how the real world looked — to him, at any rate. From the first, Jawlensky’s world looked full of color and intense distortion, his figures rendered in and surrounded by intense, saturated, jewel-like hues, their contours rough but simplified, their gazes fixed and dolorous like the Orthodox icons of his youth. Jawlensky’s palette gentled somewhat in his last three decades but the simplifications broadened, and over that time he devoted himself to the rendition of increasingly stylized faces (a pair of eyebrows, a vertical line for a nose) and mountainscapes (a blobby house, a flame-like pine tree, the crest of a hill). Jawlensky cranked out these radiant little meditations with an appropriately religious obsession, losing himself in an agape contemplation of man and nature; these were his mantras, his matins, his daily homage to a force he felt infusing his entire universe. Jawlensky’s was a very modern mysticism, undeclared in its faith and almost Deco in its elegance, but its awe was genuine and all-encompassing. Patron Galka Scheyer’s worship of Jawlensky was in turn pervasive and persuasive, and thanks to her infatuation, a trove of luminous Jawlenskys has resided in Pasadena since May, and will stay on view for a few more weeks. Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; Wed.-Mon. noon-6 p.m.; thru Nov. 26. (626) 449-6840.

—Peter Frank