Richard Pousette-Dart (1916–92), working in New York in the 1940s, created beautiful, layered paintings as well as experimenting with drawing, photography and sculpture.
Playing a key role in the genesis of Abstract Expressionism and the New York School, which transformed American art in the post-war years, Pousette-Dart’s contemporaries included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Willem de Kooning. Jim Ede, creator of Kettle’s Yard, first met Pousette-Dart in New York in 1940. Research exploring their transatlantic correspondence over subsequent decades has been a catalyst for this first solo exhibition of the work of Pousette-Dart in the UK.
Square of Meditation #2 – 1979
The theme of cirlces runs through this show of Pousette-Dart’s work, even into works showing them much less obviously. Paint is used to create a transcendent event, a fragment of heaven perhaps or a gate to a saner world.
The circle represents eternal life, perhaps the ultimate abstract shape or form if you consider the infinity of possibilities of reference. Yet strangely, P-D described how cutting 10,000 circles would give you 10,000 different circles, like faces, each unique. A spiritual idea of the human in the mechanical.
Black Circle, Time – 1979-80
This one is large – stand back and follow the line round until your eye falls away from such a solid void.
Centre of Darkness – 1965-70
Thre rich layers and encrustations of paint both jostle and blend before your eye to create a flat portal which pushes and pulls you at the same time. The result is one of other-worldy calm, but unexpected as well.
Four brass rings and one jade ring – 1940-51
God is in the universe contained in a circle which is unique and personal and created by a human hand to be as accurate as possible. The concept of circle takes over from the physical impossibility of creating a perfect one.
Brass cut symbols showing totemic and musical references – indexes for non-verbal responses to the world of verbal signification. And witty responses to nature.
Untitled, The Web, and wall sculpture, 1950
Here a drawing in copper wire translates from 2-D to 3-D, bringing the circle into suspension in space but also losing it somewhat in the sketchy tapestry of the design. The work’s power lies in the transitioning from abstract drawing to expressionist sculpture.
Table in Kettle’s Yard House, Cambridge – the spirit of P-D is echoed in the zen arrangements by the Edes in the domestic setting of the house. Kindred spirits.
Crucifixion, Comprehension of the Atom – 1944
Fear, anxiety, hope. transcendence, redemption are synthesised in this totemic and cosmic response to atomic war. The black background flings forward the elemental forces swirling around the cross – circles, orbs and amulets with strident yet harmonious colours – to offer a vision beyond the earth-bound despair of what humans are capable of. Here we see eternity in material form by way of ancient symbolism.