On ViewPace Gallery
May 10 – June 28, 2019
The paintings that occupy the main space of Richard Pousette-Dart: Works 1940 – 1992 create full visual environments, like a sun filling the sky with heat or a carpet of vegetation covering a lawn. From a distance, Pousette-Dart’s canvases are vibratory, and harmonize into an overall sensation that dissipates into distinct flecks and dots of color upon closer approach. From afar, they suggest a smooth color composition; up close, they are boisterous, many with craggy textures of built-up paint.
Pousette-Dart, who died in 1992, is often cited as one of the Irascibles, a group of 15 New York painters so dubbed by a 1951 LIFE magazine photo caption that included the more famous Pollock, Rothko, and de Kooning. In the photo, he stands on the edge of the group, away from its center. His reputation, despite several shows at large museums since the 1980s, including a Guggenheim exhibition in 2007, has remained on that periphery. Works from the decade leading up to the Irascibles photo hang in the gallery’s smaller back room where they seem to reassemble themselves out of the more expansive compositions that fill the gallery’s main space. These works from the 1940s include the painting The Center (1943) and several works on paper. Each of these incorporate glyph-like totems and symbols. In Time’s Chasm of Sun (c. 1940s) fine lines drawn under, around, and on top of the paint give a precise impression of the artist’s hand at work.
Ovidian Elegy (c. 1940s), another of the works on paper, announces an end with its title. The mixed-media work is a hazy concatenation of lines and color that hints at an earthy but ethereal process at work. It evokes both a landscape and mechanical forms. Spokes emerge from a circular form on the left of the paper, but their connections to other points in the composition are scrambled by the smudged center of the piece. Is the Ovidian Elegy a paean to the end of transformation, as energy peters out, or a song to the experience of living in the midst of a transformation so that you can’t quite perceive its processes?
In the post-1940s paintings that make up the majority of the exhibition, the quasi-semantic messages of the 1940s, with their psychologized totems and glyphs, have been dismantled into specks of data, energy, and color. Imploding Cosmos (1992) could be a picture of a shrinking universe, or a coral coming to life with pinpricks of bioluminescent color. The black center of Imploding Black (1985 – 86), surrounded by points of blue, orange, red, yellow, and green, evokes an eye’s iris and pupil as readily as a cosmic black hole. The center in these later works puts forth its own gravity. The strength of this gravity—are we falling into the center, or being spewed forth from it—gives the effect of stasis, at a still point in the stellar glow of creation, or destruction.