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Abstract Expressionist Richard Pousette-Dart in Cambridge

Detail from Richard Pousette-Dart's "Within the Room", 1942

From the timeless ‘Godfather’: “Don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business. <..> If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man [the Godfather] would take it personal. “

Kettle’s Yard took the exhibition dedicated to Richard Pousette-Dart (1916 – 1992) very personally. Apparently, Jim Ede, creator of Kettle’s Yard and former curator at the Tate, first met Pousette-Dart in New York in 1940. Since then they became friends, and their transatlantic correspondence over subsequent decades hints the real artist’s personality with great interests in music, literature and broad understanding of art in general.

Richard Pousette-Dart was one of the youngest founding members of the New York School and an Abstract Expressionist whose work inspired other artistic personas of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and others. Abstract expressionism, developed in the 1940s, was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influences and put New York City instead of Paris at the centre of the western art world. The core group of abstract expressionism was photographed by Nina Leen for the “The Irascibles”, published in Life magazine. Although in the US his works has attracted much attention and has had major exhibitions at the most famous galleries such as the Met, MoMA and Guggenheim, Richard Pousette-Dart is not so well-known in Europe, including the UK. And I feel that the friendship is the key to a first solo exhibition in the UK held at Kettle’s Yard.

This exhibition features full spectre of Richard Pousette-Dart’s work: from early experiments, i.e. sculptures and drawings on paper, from the late 1930s to monumental scale painting from 1940-1951, as well as photography. This allows to sense the different art movements from cubism to surrealism and op art that motivated the artist. His works also show the artist’s deep interest in primitive archetypal forms from Egypt, Africa, Oceania and Native America.

I paint not with my brush but with my soul not upon the canvas but upon time and space.

Richard Pousette-Dart to Jim Ede, the artist's friend

However, his art is unconscious rather than physical world but there is a sense of it as well. Looking at some of the paintings you can recognize nothing but interlocking geometric patterns, circles, spirals, which nevertheless refer to or evoke living forms such as plants and the human body or some particular symbols. Just like in Cruxification, Comprehension of the Atom, 1944 or like in Gothic Garden, 1948-52 (from the article).

Circle is a symbol frequently seen in his works. As the artist put it, “circle is a symbol of ‘Gods universe’ and never-ending cycle of life. And mentioning of god is not accidental. He often talked about soul, god, universe, etc. Yet, he did not follow one faith or doctrine, more like, he fused a wide range of different religions and philosophy, making nature as a centre of his belief.

Art is the definition of spirit, or finding of God.

Richard Pousette-Dart to Fiona Pousette-Dart, the artist's mother

Just think about this. Richard Pousette-Dart declared that he wanted to be an artist at the age of twelve. He had full support of his family. His quotes from the letters, interviews that he had thousands sculptures in his head teeming to get out, that he approached the canvas without sketches or planning, suggest that the life only gained its meaning through art and he was more than prepared to do it. Doesn’t it resonate with Buddhism and reincarnation? Maybe he was destined to be an artist?

The artist is known for his love of impasto and intense colour, but in this exhibition predominantly white and overwhelming blackness stand out. Monumental scale of his paintings left me lost in a search of hidden spirals between white-shade dots, thinking how many paintings beneath were created before this one. I was absorbed by the darkness while staring at Nightscape (tiny image) and Within the Room (a front cover for the exhibition).

edges and lines speak tell more than stories a language beyond words.

From a book 'Richard Pousette-Dart: 1930s'

“Art is universal”, “All art is abstract”, “We are Nature”, these messages by the artist suggest that that there is no need to associate artworks with some particular movement or judge it upon what is already known. Most important is to form our own opinion which would be true to ourselves.


Interview with the artist shot in 1990

The artist speaks about art (featured at Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibit 1992)

I couldn't find properly digitalised works by the artist. However, some of his works can be seen here and here.

Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation: the Healing Circles

'richard pousette-dart: begginings. a young abstract expressionist in new york'

The Kettle's Yard

Castle Street, Cambridge, CB3 0AQ

23 Oct 2018 - 6 Jan 2019

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© chierkute