Tthe Philadelphia Museum of Art has opened a great new show -- a survey of works on paper created by Richard Pousette-Dart during his long and productive career. T
his comprehensive exhibition reveals the artist as one of the most inventive draftsmen of the twentieth century, exploring the evolution of his distinctive vision. On loan from the artist’s estate and public and private collections are sixty-five of Pousette-Dart’s finest works on paper as well as six of his notebooks.
These works offer a revealing perspective on the artist’s lifelong, restless exploration of different materials and techniques in an effort to translate spiritual impulses into physical form.
At the show's opening we spoke with Jacqueline van Rhyn a curatorial assistant who explained to us that Pousette-Darts notebooks are particularly fascinating because they give great insight into his style, his motivations and his willingness to experiment. She said the artist's creations developed from an interest in primitive work to a unqiue abstract process that incorporated layering. He also pressed water colors on top of one another to create unusual effects.Though he was part of a whole generation of abstract impressionists that emerged in the 1950s and 60s, Pousette-Dart was more introspective and did not promote himself as others in his group did. To him, art was very much a spiritual experience and consequently was more of a solitary pursuit, Van Rhyn explained.
The youngest of this first generation of Abstract Expressionists, Richard Pousette Dart (1916-1992) is best known as a painter and member of a group that included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Willem de Kooning.
Early in his career, Pousette-Dart was influenced by tribal art, as evidenced in the recurring motifs he used in his Cubist-inspired sculpture and figurative drawings and paintings.
Among the works on display are six watercolors on handmade paper from an important series produced in the 1940s, including Garnet Realm, recently acquired by the Museum. During this period, as Pousette-Dart was maturing as an artist, he experimented with techniques associated with Surrealism, such as automatic drawing, often evoking the rich color of Byzantine mosaics and Gothic stained glass windows. His densely layered compositions are characterized by irregular grids, spattered paint, and intricately outlined biomorphic and geometric shapes.
In his works of the 1960s, Pousette-Dart developed dense, textured surfaces to convey glowing auras of light. The exhibition includes numerous examples of these richly colored, carpet-like images, which distinctively feature geometric patterns or concentric circles rendered with tiny dots of myriad colors. He called the quivering borders of color in these works “the living edge,” seeking in them the visual equivalent of evanescent light.
The spontaneous markings and linear webs that characterized his drawings and paintings in the early 1950s re-emerged in the mid-1970s, most notably in a series of pale graphite drawings that rank among his finest works. Major examples of these will be on view, including Untitled (Vertical Lines) and Implosion.
His works from the 1980s show a remarkable diversity of materials employed in novel combinations. Paintings and drawings on heavy cast papers reflect his enduring fascination with sculpture, while a return to earlier motifs conveys a striking continuity of vision that is echoed throughout his career. Among the last works in the exhibition is Beyond the Moon, a newly acquired drawing made in 1990, which is nocturnal in character and evokes a deep sense of mystery.
Innis Howe Shoemaker, The Audrey and William H. Helfand Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and organizer of this exhibition, stated: “Part what makes Richard Pousette-Dart’s drawings so fascinating is that they reveal his process and thinking so clearly. His art is often associated with the mystical and transcendental, but it also reflects a continuous and truly remarkable inner harmony—in essence, a form of visual poetry. These internal rhythms are especially fascinating to observe across the spectrum of his career, which is what this exhibition sets out to do, ultimately bringing the viewer full circle.”
Photos by Dan Cirucci.