SynopsisThe painter Richard Pousette-Dart was the youngest member of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. His early work, marked by thick black contour lines and primitive themes, gave way to a freer abstract style in the 1940s, and to light-infused, pointillist paintings in the 1950s and 60s. Although initially associated with the classic Abstract Expressionist angst, his work maintained a more transcendent and positive quality to it, increasingly focused on the expression of spiritual ideals in paint and color.
ChildhoodRichard Pousette-Dart was born on June 8, 1916 to educated, artistically-inclined parents in St. Paul, Minnesota. The family soon moved to Valhalla, New York, where Pousette-Dart spent most of his childhood. His father, Nathaniel Pousette, was an artist, collector, and writer, and his mother, Flora Dart, a musician, pianist, and poet. His early interests in art and music were strongly encouraged by his parents.
Early TrainingBefore turning to painting, Pousette-Dart worked with bronze sculpture, and his earliest works are in that medium. He spent a year at Bard College in the 1930s before moving to New York City, where he worked with the sculptor Paul Manship as an assistant. In Manhattan, his ideas about art were influenced by visits to the Museum of Modern Art and the Natural History Museum. He was particularly impressed by the Byzantine period and the work of Vincent Van Gogh. In addition, an early job as a secretary in a photography studio, where he completed color retouchings, is often cited as an influence on the dotted, pointillist style he developed later in his paintings.
Mature PeriodPousette-Dart's paintings in the late 1930s and early 40s share in the primitive, mythic quality evoked in the early work of Pollock, Rothko, Clyfford Still, and other New York painters. Pousette-Dart mined a variety of sources, from Eastern philosophy and Jungian psychology to the totemic forms of Oceanic and Native Art, to develop these themes. The resulting paintings feature birds, bull heads, egg shapes, and other animal forms, often rimmed with the artist's distinctive black contour line, and suggesting sacrifice, ancient rite, or primitive spirituality. Like many of his Abstract Expressionist peers, his early work shows a great debt to Picasso, with its animal imagery and its tension between recognizable forms and abstracted motifs.
In 1941-2, Pousette-Dart painted what many consider to be the first grand-scale work in Abstract Expressionism, Symphony No.1, The Transcendental. Several of his large-scale works from this period have a dark tenor, as in Crucifixion, Comprehension of the Atom, where he grapples with the themes of nuclear war and human suffering. Extremely attuned to formal issues, Pousette-Dart developed his pantheon of animal forms into an extensive array of squiggles, triangles, ovaloids, and cell-like shapes, a vocabulary that would come to characterize his organic, gestural dynamism for years to come. During this generative period in New York, Pousette-Dart showed at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery and at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
Pousette-Dart's work became increasingly painterly in the 1940s and 50s, assuming a rougher, heavier mark. In 1951, despite his growing success and the newly recognized cache of the New York art scene, Pousette-Dart left Manhattan with his wife Evelyn Gracey for Sloatsburg and then Suffern, both in Rockland County, New York. In his studio upstate, he continued on his artistic journey, producing work that was increasingly spiritual in nature. Many of the abstracted figural motifs began to give way to designs in pure color, texture, and form. His brightly colored works from the period have been likened to mosaics and stained-glass windows, with their vertical streams of jewel-like color. In the 1960s, Pousette-Dart turned increasingly to a pointillist approach, layering dabs or dots of paint over one another to create spreading, pulsing fields of color.
Late Years and DeathPousette-Dart painted into his seventies, utilizing and modifying approaches from his stylistic arsenal of pointillism, geometry, gesture, and inscribed text. In his journal writings, Pousette-Dart attached particular thematic meanings to the 'square of matter' and the 'circle of spirit', notions that become especially apparent in his work of the 1980s and 90s. Here, the angst and dynamism of some of his earlier work has settled into a more static harmony, with circles, ovals, and meanders arranged as balanced meditations on matter, spirit, and universal form. Pousette-Dart died in Suffern, NY at the age of 76.
LegacyWhile famous in his day, Pousette-Dart's legacy has faded more than that of some of his Abstract Expressionist peers. This is explained in part by the independent quality of his work, being neither 'expressionist' nor fully 'abstract', it tends to be left out of canonical accounts of the New York School. Pousette-Dart also lacked the notoriety and brooding mien of other contemporaries. He was as a vegetarian and spiritualist who avoided alcohol and depression, thus does not fit the stereotype of the suffering New York painter that others embodied.
There is no doubt, however, that his work influenced other developing artists of his day, especially in his abstraction of primitive scenes and figures and the color-centric approach of his pointillist works. In recent years, Pousette-Dart's posthumous reputation has grown, with retrospectives at The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Pousette-Dart's daughter, Joanna Pousette-Dart, and a grandson, Chris Pousette-Dart, are both contemporary abstract artists.
Below are Richard Pousette-Dart's major influences, and the people and ideas that he influenced in turn.
Years Worked: 1934 - 1991
Quotes"I strive to express the spiritual nature of the Universe. Painting for me is a dynamic balance and wholeness of life; it is mysterious and transcending, yet solid and real."
The Frick Collection,
The Impressionist Line from Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec: Drawings and Prints from the Clark
Open until June 16th
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue
Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity
Open until May 27th
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue
At War with the Obvious: Photographs by William Eggleston
Open until July 28th
El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue
Superreal: Alternative Realities in Photography and Video
Open until May 19th
The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street
Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light
Open until August 12th
The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street
Abstract Generation: Now in Print
Open until September 2nd
The Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 West 125th Street
Fred Wilson: Local Color
Open until June 30th
Acquavella Galleries, 18 East 79th Street
The Pop Object: The Still Life Tradition in Pop Art
Open until May 24th
The Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway
Käthe Kollwitz: Prints from the War and Death Portfolios
Open until November 10th
The New York Public Library, Fifth Avenue and East 42nd Street
Matthew Barney in Conversation with Paul Holdengräber
On May 21st
The Morgan Library and Museum, 225 Madison Avenue
Artist Talk: Matthew Barney
On May 15th
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Published: February 14, 2006
Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1997
A Little Abstract, a Little Eccentric, and More
August 17, 2007
The New York Times
By Roberta Smith
The Brooklyn Rail
By Jim Long
Richard Pousette-Dart: Metropolitan Museum of Art
By Peter Plagens
Video ClipsRichard Pousette-Dart at the Guggenheim Museum
Amateur Video by James Kalm
Artist in Popular CultureThe Pousette-Dart Band
Richard Pousette-Dart's son Jon founded the Pousette-Dart Band with friends in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1973. Playing throughout the 1970s and 80s, the group used paintings by Richard Pousette-Dart as cover art for some of their albums.
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting, and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
ArtStory: Pablo Picasso Page
|Arshile Gorky was an Armenian-born American painter and was a major influence on the development of Abstract Expressionism. In his own art he fused elements of Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism, and was close with key figures central to New York's burgeoning abstrct art scene, such as John Graham, Stuart Davis and Willem de Kooning.
ArtStory: Arshile Gorky Page
|Adolph Gottlieb was an Abstract Expressionist painter who commonly used grids, pictographs, and primitive symbols in his work.
ArtStory: Adolph Gottlieb Page
|Active in Paris from the 1920s onward, and influenced by Surrealism, Miró developed a style of biomorphic abstraction which blended abstract figurative motifs, large fields of color, and primitivist symbols. This style would be an important inspiration for many Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: Joan Miró Page
|John Graham was a Russian-born American painter and a key figure in the development of Abstract Expressionism. Never adopting a singular style in his own art, Graham tutored many young abstract artists on the tenets of Cubism and Surrealism, of which he was an expert. Willem de Kooning credited Graham as the person who discovered Jackson Pollock.
ArtStory: John Graham Page
|Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist who in the early 20th century founded the psychoanalytic school of psychology. His theories on the human unconscious, arhcetypal forms and free association were very influential on many forms of modern art, including Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.
|Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of analytical psychology. Jung studied the human psyche through an exploration of dreams, religion, mythology and art. Jung's extensive work and interest in the human unconscious was a major influence on some of the Abstract Expressionists.
|Beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, traditional African art, often seen through a primitivizing eye, began to exert a strong influence on modern Western artists. Artists were influenced by the emphasis on ritual and spiritualism, and the stylistic conventions of flattened planes and mask-like faces.
|Byzantine Art is a broad category that covers work made within the Byzantine Empire, from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries. Mosaics, icons, and panel paintings frequently include hieratic depictions of Christian figures and symbols, and make use of a flattened, elongated style.
|Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism Page
|Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism Page
|Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock Page
|Clyfford Still was a leading first-generation Abstract Expressionist. His mature works are large-scale paintings with gaping chasms and stains of jagged color, often in dark earth tones.
ArtStory: Clyfford Still Page
|Mark Rothko was an Abstract Expressionist painter whose early interest in mythic landscapes gave way to mature works featuring large, hovering blocks of color on colored grounds.
ArtStory: Mark Rothko Page
|A tendency within Abstract Expressionism, distinct from gestural abstraction, color field painting was developed by Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still in the late 1940s, and developed further by Helen Frankenthaler and others. It is characterized by large fields of color and an absence of any figurative motifs, and often expresses a yearning for transcendence and the infinite.
ArtStory: Color Field Painting Page