It took me a few years on my journey into the art world to appreciate Abstract Expressionism. A show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art brought it home for me and I detail that experience, and how to look at Abstract Expressionism here.
Dusti Bongé Abstract Expressionism paintings have always been my favorite of hers. This week, as part of our collaboration with the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation in Biloxi, MS, we take a look at AbEx artworks by Dusti Bongé with analysis, as always, from Foundation Executive Director Ligia M. Römer.
Dusti Bongé, Spiral Bound Sketchbook – p.1 – Study for “An Oriental If”, c. 1955, pastel on paper, 7” x 5”.
Dusti Bongé, An Oriental If, 1957, oil on canvas, 46” x 26”
The Tate Museum offers a brilliant description of Abstract Expressionism: “Abstract expressionism is the term applied to new forms of abstract art developed by American painters such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning in the 1940s and 1950s. It is often characterised [sic] by gestural brush-strokes or mark-making, and the impression of spontaneity.”
That last part, the impression of spontaneity, is indeed something that AbEx artists often claim to be an essential aspect of their way of working. However, as the two images above show, an initial moment of spontaneity may very well spark a subsequent iteration of itself.
Dusti Bongé herself also tended to see her work as spontaneous, noting that when she starts a painting, “I never know what my canvas will say.”
And yet, there are several examples of her having made a sketch or study which subsequently became a painting, not just in her early figurative years, or during her surrealist period, but even in her abstract expressionist work. In this latter case, the study and the painting would often be at vastly different scales.
And therein perhaps lies the spontaneity, that Dusti could translate a small sketch with just a few pastel marks in distinct colors into a much larger canvas still reminiscent of those marks with the colors taking on a certain amount of richness and depth.
In the case of An Oriental If, as you can see, the scale changes drastically, and with it the proportions somewhat change as well. However, the color palette doesn’t change at all, nor does the overall compositional gestural movement. One element from the sketch disappears in the painting, the small circular form in the lower right. The blue background is more subdued, and the black edge alongside the red is more sharply defined and more powerful.