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Totemic Transcendental

Collection item 2009.002.0001
  • Period Twentieth-Century
  • Materials Acrylic on canvas
  • Object Number 2009.002.0001
  • Dimensions overall: 80 in x 48 in; 203.2 cm x 121.92 cm
  • Credit Line Gift from the Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart, 2009; © 2008 Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Pousette-Dart grew up in a supportive artistic environment. His father was a painter, Nathaniel Pousette, and his mother was a poet, Flora Louise Dart. One of his grandfather’s was a French silversmith. With virtually no formal training as an artist, Richard Pousette-Dart dropped out of Bard College in 1936 to work independently as a painter and sculptor. By 1939 he was working full time as a painter in New York City. His first solo show took place there in 1941. He was the youngest of the Abstract Expressionists, exhibiting with them from 1944.

Although Pousette-Dart mined many of the same sources as the other Abstract Expressionists- surrealism, Jungian psychology, and the art of non-Western cultures-his temperament and orientation set him somewhat apart from the New York School. Not a regular at the Cedar Bar, he was introspective, well-read, and literary, filling notebooks with writings as well as drawings throughout his life. The shapes and symbols that fill his canvases are not tied to fixed meanings. As some of the titles he gave to his work suggest- White Cosmos and Totemic Transcendental, for example- he was above all, a spiritual man, and it was the spiritual nature of the universe that he said he was trying to express in his paintings.