This week’s partnership between See Great Art and the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation in Biloxi, MS reveals an intriguing detail about the artist’s life. She regularly visited Mexico in the 1950s. This was a period after many of the top Surrealist painters of the day escaped World War II to Mexico City. Diego Rivera would die in 1957 as one of the most famous painters in the world. Frida Kahlo died a few years earlier, yet to achieve anything approaching the level of fame she has now.
Mexico, at this time, was an artistic hotbed. It’s interesting to think about Dusti Bongé in this mix.
Analysis of the artwork, as always, comes from Dusti Bongé Art Foundation Executive Director Ligia M. Römer.
Dusti Bongé, Untitled (White, Black and Gray Abstract Figures), 1953, oil on canvas 18” x 40”
The early 1950s marked a stylistic turn in Dusti Bongé’s oeuvre when she started moving away from her surrealist and already highly abstracted Keyhole Figures to even more abstract forms in her compositions. No longer were there recognizable figures, but instead a specific use of abstract shapes arranged in a certain pattern that lent a sense of rhythm to these works. Eventually these shapes made way for her purely gestural abstract expressionist style.
The above work by Dusti Bongé is from this transitional period. She created several horizontal paintings like this one, that really allowed the abstract pattern of figures to move across the canvas. These paintings also have a very similar palette dominated by browns and golds and some white.
It should be noted that this was also the time when she started traveling regularly to Mexico, in 1952 to visit her son, and in 1954 with her friends Betty Parsons, and Jack Robinson. These paintings look like they might have been inspired by the highly stylized abstract forms of Mesoamerican art, and by the warm colors of the country.
In this work there is clearly a rhythmic movement of lighter forms in the foreground overlapping a few dark forms behind them, which in turn stand out against the muted, light taupe background. Then to the right of the composition, the fore- and background relation is intensified, with the brighter figures being contrasted against a very dark brown ground.