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Richard Pousette-Dart

Richard Pousette-Dart was born on June 8, 1916 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He began drawing and painting when he was eight. His father was Nathaniel Pousette, a painter and writer on art and artists, and his mother was Flora Louise Dart, a poet and musician. They hyphenated their surnames when they married to show that they respected each other as equals. Richard Pousette-Dart grew up in Valhalla, in Westchester County, New York. His father did not believe in formal art lessons and he spent hours sitting watching his father paint in his attic studio. Although he learned from his father, Richard Pousette-Dart was largely self taught as an artist. Art was only one of the many interests that he had as a child and he acquired them all through active involvement.

In 1936, he graduated from the Scarborough School, Scarborough-on-Hudson, New York. In 1936, Richard Pousette-Dart entered Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. In rebellion against formal education, he only stayed a matter of months when he left to pursue his art activity in New York City. The artist started out as a sculptor. Then, Richard Pousette-Dart 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,” Richard Pousette-Dart quit his job, thereby embarking upon years of financial struggle that did not end until the mid-1960′s, when his work began to sell. At the beginning of the 1940′s, he was forced to give up sculpture because of the expense. Richard Pousette-Dart 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 the late 1930′s, Richard Pousette-Dart developed a clean-edged style combining Cubist shapes with Surreal imagery. And then in the 1940′s, 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 Richard Pousette-Dart, 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)

In 1946, Richard Pousette-Dart 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. The artist spent fourteen years painting in New York City. Then, at the age of thirty-four he moved with his family to a part of Rockland County which is rural and mountainous.

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 1950′s, Richard Pousette-Dart’s 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 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).

Richard Pousette-Dart died on October 25, 1992.

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 1950′s
Richard Pousette-Dart’s Windows into the Unknowing, by Judith Higgins, ARTnews, January 1987
Richard Pousette-Dart, John Gordon, ed., Whitney Museum of American Art, Praeger, 1963, New York, NY
Richard Pousette-Dart, Robert Hobbs and Joanne Kuebler, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana University Press, 1990, Indianapolis, IN

Compiled and written by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher of Laguna Woods, California.

Biography from the Archives of AskART.