Active in New York from the early 1940s, Pousette-Dart made important contributions to the Abstract Expressionist movement. He was the first of the Abstract Expressionist group to break through and paint mural-size canvases, e.g., Symphony No.1, The Transcendental (1941–42), and Undulation, (1941–42), which anticipated Jackson Pollock’s mural scale work in 1943.
During this period Pousette-Dart’s technique began to emphasize gesture, layers of paint, and evocative subject matter that were the first pictorial statements of what came to be known as “action painting” as seen in Comprehension of the Atom, Crucifixion (1944). In 1950, Pousette-Dart appeared in the historic photograph The Irascibles, depicting fifteen New York School abstract painters.
In 1947, Peggy Guggenheim gave him a solo exhibition at her New York gallery, Art of This Century, where the artist’s best-known masterpiece and first large-scale Abstract Expressionist painting, Symphony No. 1, The Transcendental was able to be shown for the first time.
|1941-2 Symphony No 1, The Transcendental oil on canvas 22 x 36 cm|
Pousette-Dart drew inspiration from Native American, African, and Oceanic art, as well as European and American artistic trends, and the writings of Freud and Jung. He was influenced by Oriental philosophy and American Transcendentalism and held to the conviction that the abstract symbols of painting could reveal universal truths by suggesting the mysterious realm of the spirit. In 1947 he wrote, “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.”
In 1951, the solitude he needed for his life’s work required him to move out of New York. In 1958 he and his wife, the poet Evelyn Gracey Pousette-Dart, moved to the countryside near Suffern, New York, where his studio is still preserved today.
Glowing and mysterious “white” paintings from 1950–51, painted with white gouache/oil and pencil/graphite include Descending Bird Forms and White Garden, Sky.
|1951 White Garden, Sky oil & graphite on linen 136 x 154 cm|
Pousette-Dart’s work in the 1960s contributed to the colour field and lyrical abstraction that were an important evolution of Abstract Expressionism. His later works transpose the bright light and brushwork of Impressionism into abstract meditations, suggesting the frontier of the unconscious which Jung had described. These paintings have titles evoking the magic of their radiant, pulsating, and subtly colored surfaces such as Amaranth Garden, Night Landscape, Golden Presence, Byzantine Cathedral, and Lost in the Beginnings of Infinity.
Richard Pousette-Dart’s paintings and drawings have been exhibited nationally and internationally in solo exhibitions organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1969–70), the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1963, 1974, and 1998), the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Florida (1986), the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana (1990), the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan (1991), the Columbus Museum, Ohio (1991–92), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1997), the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2001), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2006), the Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco (2006), and the Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio (2007), in addition to innumerable group exhibitions.
All images © The Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart
Sizes where shown have been rounded up or down to the nearest whole centimetre:
|c1930 Untitled oil on canvas 15 x 20 cm|
|1935 Head of Persephone oil on linen 61 x 51 cm|
|1939 Bird Woman oil on linen 183 x 102 cm|
|1939 River Metamorphosis oil on linen 95 x 114 cm|
|1940 Desert oil on canvas 109 x 183 cm|
|1940 Head of a King oil on canvas 25 x 23 cm|
|1942 Undulation oil on linen 122 x 239 cm|
|1943 Fugue No. 2 oil & sand on canvas 104 x 270 cm|
|1943 The Center oil on linen 141 x 121 cm|
|1944 Comprehension of the Atom, Crucifixion oil on linen 196 x 125 cm|
|1944-5 Figure oil on canvas 210 x 124 cm|
|1947-48 The Atom, One World oil on linen 128 x 136 cm|
|1950 Entrance oil on canvas 97 x 267 cm|
|1950-1 The Magnificent oil on canvas 220 x 112 cm|
|1952 Cascella II oil on canvas 166 x 114 cm|
|1952 Golden Dawn oil & graphite on linen 237 x 131 cm|
|1957 White Gothic #3 oil on canvas 235 x 166 cm|
|1958 Blood Wedding oil on linen 183 x 284 cm|
|1958 Illumination Gothic oil on canvas 183 x 136 cm|