Catalog Essay | September 17, 2020 | Lot 56
Richard Pousette-Dart was among the youngest artists of the New York School’s first generation of Abstract Expressionists. He was born in 1916 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father was Nathaniel Pousette, an artist and art writer, and his mother was Flora Louise Dart, a poet and musician. His parents hyphenated their surnames when they got married in 1913 to show their mutual respect to each other as equals.
Pousette-Dart had no formal art training but spent considerable time as a child with his father at the easel painting with him. After graduating from high school he briefly attended Bard College in 1936, and after a few months he moved to Manhattan to further his career as an artist. To support himself, he first served as an assistant to the sculptor Paul Manship, who was his father’s friend. While working during the day, he spent his nights working on his artwork and in 1939, he devoted himself fully to painting and sculpture.
During the 1940s, Pousette-Dart was active in the avant-garde New York art world as he moved into Abstract Expressionism with work that focused on philosophical issues such as the hidden meaning of life. 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).
He had his first solo show at the Artist’s Gallery in 1941 then 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 (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 Mark Rothko, and in the activities of the Eighth Street Club, founded by Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Ad Reinhardt among others. He socialized with Abstract Expressionist painters at the Cedar Street Tavern on University Place and at the 59th Street Automat.
In 1946, the year after he painted “Cerulean Garden” he married poet Evelyn Gracey and they started a family. A few years later, he moved with his family to Rockland County, New York, where he lived until his death in 1992.
During that time, he taught 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.
His works are in the collections of many major museums including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution in 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.
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. ~ Richard Pousette-Dart