A New Reading of Richard Pousette-Dart

62915_POUSETTE_DART_WebPhong Bui at The Brooklyn Rail:

What I have essentially discovered in my recent observations of Pousette-Dart’s work is that they appear to have been made for future generations of artists. Pousette-Dart’s maturity ripened early in part through his friendship with John Graham. One suspects that Graham’s theory of abstract painting—a potential synthesis of his obsessions with the occult, esoteric philosophies, Freud, Jung, “primitive” art and European modernism, revealed and defined in his book System and Dialectics of Art (pub. 1937)—appealed to the young Pousette-Dart’s sensibilities. What was so impressive was how he materialized those diverse references so confidently in his work. Take, for example, Symphony No. 1, The Transcendental (1941 – 42) which was painted when he was barely twenty-five years old. I should also note that he was the first of the New York School to make a mural-size painting (it measures 7.5 × 10 feet), and that his personal style owes nothing to the athletic gesture that is often identified with certain works by Pollock, de Kooning and Kline, or the subtle applications of the hard-edge geometry of Reinhardt, or the fields of suffused and unbroken color in Rothko and Newman. Yet unlike Graham, who by the ’50s began to reject Cubism, Surrealism, and abstraction in favor of figurative art, Pousette-Dart stayed on course with his commitment to abstraction until the very end. Whichever way his broad interests manifest in a complex and diverse repertoire of images, each painting, as Roberta Smith wrote in her New York Times review, “exemplifies the exultation of material that courses through much American painting.”1 This is the brilliant and indispensable truth about Pousette-Dart’s art. He used dense layering of paint, pigment, and form to create complex light infused compositions, a hallmark of his work that remained constant throughout his career. Whether one can detect similar palimpsests of vertical ghostlike auras in Blue Image (1950), Presence(1956), and Ossi #2 (1958), the paint applications in each differ vastly. It’s also important to understand that these are singular paintings that represent larger series and it is the protean as well as prolific nature of his sensibility that allowed these investigations to evolve in parallel while perpetually cross-pollinating. In the first, a transparent and uneven blue wash pours over occasional spots of yellow and red, and light pencil marks hover around a skeleton of unmediated black lines made by his usual method of squeezing paint directly out of the tube. The second was painted with a minimal palette of dark gold, light brown, and white, over a crusty, thick, and irregular yet fine stucco-like texture. The third has a heavy, coarse texture, formed predominantly from white over black and tempered with a gray wash.

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