Notebooks, journals, and sketchbooks offer rich insight into the thinking and working practices of artists. In the late 1930s Richard Pousette-Dart began to keep notebooks in close proximity while he painted, sculpted, and sketched. Numbering well over 200 by the time of his death in 1992, these notebooks functioned as integral, “in-the-moment” components of his art making. Densely filled with spontaneous, intuitive thoughts, forms, and compositions, they mirror Pousette-Dart’s process of painting, wherein wholeness emerges from the balanced sum of parts.
One notebook, dating from the late 1940s and early 1950s, offers extraordinary imagery conveyed through paint, watercolor, ink, pencil, pastel and collage elements. A loose, spontaneous ink sketch offers a bridge between a Janus head and African sculpture; a double-page collaged ink and watercolor study explores essential geometric and organic forms; a magical vertical composition offers the sublime qualities of large Abstract Expressionist canvases on a piece of paper only six inches high.
The cover of the notebook is embossed with the gold stamp of the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order founded in the United States in the late 19th century. Pousette-Dart was not, however, a member of the order, and never adhered to any institutionalized religion or denominational creed. The blank notebook, in fact, was found at a secondhand shop. Yet, as has often been the case with mythic and heroic titles bestowed upon Abstract Expressionist paintings after completion, the Knights of Pythias cover now suggests a volume of esoteric knowledge—or perhaps invokes the loose confraternity of New York School painters who, by the late 1940s, had achieved widespread recognition. Although he was highly independent, Pousette-Dart viewed the process of creation as a universally transformative act, noting in this volume that:
Every artist is a poet
Shall I show you?
Shall I take you into a few of their lives?
Every artist is a form dancer
All images, Richard Pousette-Dart, Notebook B-114 (Knights of Pythias), ca. 1948-52. Richard Pousette-Dart Estate.