Dusti Bongé brought Surrealism to Biloxi

The Deep South has never been associated with the avant-garde. Dusti Bongé brought a taste of the avant-garde to her hometown of Biloxi, MS during the later half of the 20th century. As the state’s first artist working exclusively in a Modernist style, Bongé was a groundbreaker for other Mississippi artists to emulate.

Insight into this week’s Dusti Bongé artwork, as always, comes from Dusti Bongé Art Foundation Executive Director Ligia M. Römer.

Dusti Bongé, Set A-Z, Twenty-five Surrealist Drawings, Drawing X, Untitled (Surrealist Fish and Birds) c.1945, ink on paper, 8 1/2” x 11”

The mid-forties were a time where Dusti Bongé had almost completely transitioned into surrealism and away from her more cubist early modern depictions of her physical surroundings. These surrealist works nonetheless were still inspired by her immediate perceptions and the unique perspective she had on all aspects of daily life. Whether depicting her fellow humans, animals or unique local moments, they are all undeniably enigmatic. 

In this set of ink drawings there are almost exclusively sketches that are either portraits/faces or figure studies. They are executed in a similar loose hand, reminiscent of contour drawing exercises, with a few continuous lines capturing the subject matter. They are also all not realistic at all, instead hinting at facial features or bodily postures. 

This particular drawing is the only one in the set that is neither a portrait nor a human figure. Instead, here Dusti allows her coastal experience to set the subject matter. Biloxi being a major seafood industry town, fish and birds, the latter often preying on the former, are an inescapable part of daily life. You see them, hear them, occasionally smell them, everywhere. And in this sketch, with just a few continuous lines, she appears to capture both fish and bird-like shapes intertwined with one another. 

Between the overlapping tangled lines there are small-patterned areas of stippling, lines, waves and dots. They highlight certain elements, like the waves of the sea in the background, the sand of the beach, or possibly the beak of a bird. Perhaps fish and bird are in an epic battle?

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