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 Richard Pousette-Dart  (1916 - 1992)

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Lived/Active: New York/Minnesota      Known for: biomorphic to minimal painting, portrait

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Richard Pousette-Dart
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Richard Pousette-Dart was born in 1916 in St. Paul, Minnesota.  He began drawing and painting when he was eight.  His father was Nathaniel Pousette, painter and writer on art and artists, and his mother was Flora Louise Dart, poet and musician.  They hyphenated their surnames when they married to show they respected each other as equals.  Richard grew up in Valhalla, in Westchester County, New York.  His father did not believe in formal art lessons, and Richard spent hours sitting in his father's attic studio and watching his father paint.  Art was only one of the many interests he had as a child, and he acquired them all through active involvement.

In 1936 Pousette-Dart entered Bard College, but in rebellion against formal education, he only stayed a matter of months when he left to pursue his art activity in New York City.  He started out as a sculptor.  Then he supported himself by doing lettering for the sculptor Paul Manship, and then for two years as secretary and bookkeeper to a man who retouched colored photographs.  At night he worked on his own sculpture, painting and drawing; he also learned from his own direct experience with many works of art in museums, etc.

In 1939, having realized that he was "consumed by art," Pousette-Dart quit his job, thereby embarking upon years of financial struggle that did not end until the mid-1960s, when his work began to sell.  At the beginning of the 1940s he was forced to give up sculpture, because of the expense.  He became part of what became known as the New York School, but he never felt the camaraderie of a Paris cafe scene; instead he was belligerent about his aloneness.

In 1946 he and Evelyn Gracey were married; in 1947 their daughter Joanna, who grew up to be a painter, was born, and in 1952 their son Jonathan was born.  Pousette-Dart had spent fourteen years painting in New York City.  At the age of thirty-four he moved with his family to a part of Rockland County, which is rural and mountainous. He died in 1992.


Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
"Pousette-Dart's Windows into the Unknowing" by Judith Higgins in ARTnews,January 1987
From the internet, AskART.com

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A first generation member of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism, Richard Pousette-Dart was included in many of their earliest exhibitions including at the Peggy Guggenheim Art of this Century Gallery in New York, the Venice Biennale in 1948 and the Museum of Modern Art's 1949 exhibition, "Contemporary American Painters."

During the early 1950s, his work received much praise when Abstract Expressionism was at the height of its popularity. "He was also included in the infamous Life Magazine 'Irascibles' group photograph of the New York School, an image that would forever link him with that group of mid-century painters in New York that changed the course of the artworld." (Christie's)

Richard Pousette-Dart was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and was largely self taught as an artist, although he learned from his father, artist and writer Nathaniel Pousette-Dart.  He graduated from the Scarborough School, Scarborough-on-Hudson, New York in 1935, and the next year attended Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

In the late 1930s, he developed a clean-edged style combining Cubist shapes with Surreal imagery.  And then in the 1940s, his canvases became biomorphic and cluttered and moved into Abstract Expressionism with work that focused on philosophical issues such as the hidden meaning of life.  For him, it was a turning away from process-oriented gestural painting.  Expressing his new frame of mind, he said: "Art is always mystical in its final meaning. . . Painting is a spark from an invisible, pointless central fire." (Herskovic 266)

Richard Pousette-Dart was also an art educator, holding teaching positions in New York City at the New School for Social Research (1959 to 1961); the School of Visual Arts in New York City (1964); Columbia University (1968 to 1969); Art Students League (1980-1981); and in Bronxville, New York at Sarah Lawrence College (1970-1974).

Sources include:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Christie's catalogue, Post War and Contemporary Art, 11/14/2002
Marika Herskovic, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s


Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, P-R):

Richard Pousette-Dart (1916–1992)

Richard Pousette-Dart was a pioneering Abstract Expressionist and a visionary of the New York School, which was active in the 1940s and 50s.  Despite significant contact with all members of this group, Pousette-Dart chose to leave New York City in 1951 to preserve his artistic freedom.  He remained fiercely independent throughout his career, creating transcendental paintings of extraordinary depth and radiance.  Powerful dualities—circle and square, man and cosmos, spirit and body, light and substance—are central to his work.  He explained in a 1947 artist statement, “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.”

Born on June 8, 1916, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Pousette-Dart grew up in a culturally rich environment in Valhalla, New York, where his family moved in 1918.  His father, Nathaniel Pousette, was a painter and writer on art, and his mother, Flora Louise Dart, was a musician and poet.  From childhood, they fostered their son’s interest in art, philosophy, music, and literature.

Although Pousette-Dart had no formal art training, he spent considerable time as a child watching his father at the easel and discussing painting with him.  After graduating from Scarborough-on-Hudson High School, he briefly attended Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, leaving before the end of his first year to pursue a career as an artist.  Encouraged by his parents, he moved to Manhattan in 1937.  To support himself, he first served as assistant to the sculptor Paul Manship, his father’s friend, and then worked as a secretary in a photographic studio.  In 1939, he quit his job and devoted himself fully to painting and sculpture.

During the 1940s, Pousette-Dart was active in the avant-garde New York art world; he became one of the youngest members of the emerging group of Abstract Expressionists.  His early paintings reflect his interest in Cubism, biomorphic Surrealism, Jungian and Freudian theories of the unconscious, and African and Native American art.  He had his first solo show at the Artist’s Gallery in 1941 and subsequently exhibited at Willard Gallery along with Mark Tobey in 1943, at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in 1944, and at the Betty Parsons Gallery (regularly from 1948 to 1967), where Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko also showed their work.  Pousette-Dart participated in discussions about abstraction at the legendary Studio 35, a meeting place for Abstract Expressionist artists, including William Baziotes, David Hare, Robert Motherwell and Rothko, and in the activities of the Eighth Street Club, founded by Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Ad Reinhardt among others.  He also socialized with Abstract Expressionist painters at the Cedar Street Tavern on University Place and at the 59th Street Automat.

In 1951, Pousette-Dart moved to Rockland County, New York, where he lived with his wife, the poet Evelyn Gracey, until his death in 1992.  This self-imposed isolation from the New York art world enabled him to distance himself from the Abstract Expressionist movement and helped him to develop the unique character of his imagery.  However, he maintained a connection with the next generation of artists by teaching at a variety of schools in and around New York City, including the New School for Social Research, the School of Visual Arts, Columbia University, the Arts Students League, Bard College and Sarah Lawrence College.

The substance of paint, often squeezed directly on board, is a crucial aspect of Pousette-Dart’s work.  Its materiality adds dimension to the viewer’s experience of light and color.  Each touch carries distinct highlights and shadows that shift according to the position of the viewer or the source of light.  As the viewer juggles the distinct tasks of apprehending underlying shapes and appreciating the physicality of each tiny unit of color, the experience of seeing becomes as important as what is seen.

Pousette-Dart’s oeuvre displays cyclical variations on themes and often resists neat categorization according to a linear, chronological progression.  Although there are exceptions, early in the 1960s Pousette-Dart generally backed away from including recognizable shapes and symbols in his work, instead creating diffuse “implosions” of pointillist color.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he became preoccupied with reintegrating geometric shapes.

His works can be found in the collection of many major museums in the United States, including the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

References
Gordon, John, ed.  Richard Pousette-Dart. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in cooperation with Praeger, 1963.

Hobbs, Robert, and Joanne Kuebler.  Richard Pousette-Dart.  Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art in cooperation with Indiana University Press, 1990.


Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, P-R):
Richard Pousette-Dart was a pioneering Abstract Expressionist before leaving New York City in 1951 to preserve his artistic independence. Powerful dualities—circle and square, spirit and body, light and substance—are the central subject of his radiant abstract paintings.

Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1916, Pousette-Dart grew up in Valhalla, New York. Although Pousette-Dart had no formal art training, he spent considerable time as a child watching his artist father at the easel. He briefly attended Bard College before leaving for New York to pursue his career as an artist.

Pousette-Dart quickly became one of the youngest members of the emerging group of Abstract Expressionists. Early paintings reflect his interest in Cubism, biomorphic Surrealism, Jungian and Freudian theories of the unconscious, and African and Native American art. He had his first solo show at the Artist’s Gallery in 1941 and subsequently exhibited at Willard Gallery along with Mark Tobey in 1943, at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in 1944, and at the Betty Parsons Gallery (regularly from 1948 to 1967), where Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko also showed their work. Pousette-Dart participated in discussions about abstraction at the legendary Studio 35, a meeting place for Abstract Expressionist artists, including William Baziotes, David Hare, Robert Motherwell and Rothko, and in the activities of the Eighth Street Club.

In 1951 Pousette-Dart moved to Rockland County, New York, where he lived until his death in 1992. Self-imposed isolation from the New York art world enabled him to distance himself from the Abstract Expressionist movement and develop the unique character of his imagery.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

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Abstract Expressionism



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