Richard Pousette-Dart

Richard Pousette-Dart Founder of the New York School of Painting

An Innovative Artist With A Desire to Express the Spiritual Nature of The Universe

Featured Artists Article by Renée Phillips

Richard Pousette-Dart, born on June 8, 1916, is recognized primarily as an Abstract Expressionist and founder of the New York School of Painting. Although  he did not achieve the same level of prominence as his fellow abstract expressionists, his work influenced many artists, especially in his abstraction of primitive scenes and his pointillistic techniques.

Richard Pousette-Dart
White Undulation, 1941-43. Richard Pousette-Dart, American, 1916 – 1992. Pen and ink, transparent and opaque watercolor, and oil paint on handmade wove paper. Sheet: 31″ × 23″ (78.7 × 58.4 cm). Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Kathleen Compton Sherrerd Fund for Acquisitions in American Art, 2008-2. © 2014 Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Early Signs of Talent

The artist was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to a family of artists who encouraged his interest in art. His mother, Flora Pousette-Dart, was a poet, pianist and musician. His father, Nathaniel J. Pousette-Dart, was a painter, collector, art director, educator and arts writer.

Richard Pousette-Dart began painting and drawing when he was eight years old. At the age of twelve he was featured in a New York Times photograph that showed him and his father sketching each others’ portraits.

While in high school he expressed his educated views of abstract art. In a psychology paper he wrote, “The greater the work of art, the more abstract and impersonal it is; the more it embodies universal experience, and the fewer specific personality traits it reveals.”

Richard Pousette-Dart
Garden Poem/In the Forest, 1956-58. Richard Pousette-Dart, American, 1916 – 1992. Opaque watercolor with brush and pen and ink on wove paper, Sheet: 7 3/8 × 10 3/8 inches (18.7 × 26.4 cm). Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart. © 2014 Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Richard Pousette-Dart Achieves Prominence in NYC

In 1936 Pousette-Dart attended Bard College for only one semester and left to pursue his art career.  He frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History and became inspired by the the formal and spiritual aspects of African, Oceanic and Native American art, especially carvings produced by Northwest Indian cultures. He sought “to express the spiritual nature of the universe”.

During the 1940’s he become widely regarded as an Abstract Expressionist, maintained a studio at 436 East 56th Street in Manhattan, and exhibited in New York galleries.

Pousette-Dart is most recognized as a founder of the New York School of Painting. This was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris.

Richard Pousette-Dart
Violet Garden, 1960s. Richard Pousette-Dart, American, 1916 – 1992. Oil paint over opaque watercolor, gold metallic paint, and ballpoint pen on wove paper, Sheet: 9 5/16″ × 11 5/16″ (23.7 × 28.7 cm). © 2014 Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

His Artistic Evolution

During his career Pousette-Dart applied an innovative diversity of materials and techniques as well as a remarkable evolution of imagery which he expressed in many different styles.

He embraced a wide range of intense color within paintings and works on paper from the 1960s through the 1990s and also created black-and-white paintings of geometric forms.

His early paintings, created during the late 1940s, emphasized line, which he created by directly applying paint from the tube onto mixed-medium grounds that included sand, poured paint, and gold and silver leaf.

Beginning in the late 1950s, he experimented with building form through small, individual dabs of color, creating paintings and works on paper that exhibit all-over, field-like compositions.

Richard Pousette-Dart
Center of Remembering, 1960s. Richard Pousette-Dart, American, 1916 – 1992. Oil paint over opaque watercolor, with glitter paint on wove paper, Sheet: 11 5/16″ × 11 7/8″ (28.7 × 30.2 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, © 2014 Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Glowing Auras of Light

In the 1960s, he developed a method of creating glowing auras of light by using carefully modulated dots of color, impasto and gestural marks. These works vibrate and suggest allusions to space.

His works of the 1970s and 1980s often focused on large shapes—orbs and geometric forms — that serve as mandala-like focal points.

His works on paper from about 1976 to the end of his career are comprised on many new approaches to vibrant imagery employed in unique combinations. They include evocative graphite drawings accented by white paint; delicate hand-colored etchings; and colorful acrylics on handmade paper.

Richard Pousette-Dart
Light Gathers to the Question of No, 1979. Richard Pousette-Dart, American, 1916 – 1992. Graphite on paper, Sheet: 22″ × 30″ (55.9 × 76.2 cm), Framed: 33″ × 40″ (83.8 × 101.6 cm). Agnes Gund Collection. © 2014 Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Drawing Center presented Richard Pousette-Dart: 1930s, the first in-depth consideration of Richard Pousette-Dart’s drawings from the 1930s, a period when the artist pursued directly-carved sculpture, yet also painted, experimented with photography, and created numerous works on paper. The exhibition ran from October 2 through December 20, 2015.

In 2014 the Philadelphia Museum of Art presented a survey of Pousette-Dart’s works on paper created over the course of nearly seven decades. It included about sixty of the finest examples created by the artist, on loan from the estate of Richard Pousette-Dart and other public and private collections.

Visit Richard Pousette-Dart’s website


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