Dusti Bongé joss paper abstract watercolor

Each week thanks to See Great Art’s partnership with the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation in Biloxi, Mississippi, the Foundation’s executive director, Ligia M. Römer, informs us about a new aspect of the artist’s work. Dusti Bongé joss paper artworks are the latest, and perhaps most unusual.

The mission of the Foundation is to promote the artistic legacy of Dusti Bongé, Mississippi’s first Abstract Expressionist painter, through exhibition, conservation, scholarship and education. We appreciate the Foundation using See Great Art to share the work of this brilliant, and overlooked, artist.

Like always, analysis of this week’s artwork is provided by Römer .

Dusti Bongé Untitled (Orange and Gray Abstract), 1984, watercolor on joss paper, 5 1/2” x 8 1/2”. 

Paul Bongé Collection

Known as “spirit money” or “ghost money” to be burned as offerings to one’s ancestors, joss papers are inexpensive sheets of bamboo or rice paper with a small square of silver or gold leaf placed on them. In actuality, the “gold” version is simply the silver leaf with a stroke of orange color over it, rendering the silver instantly gold. 

Dusti Bongé started her beautiful collection of joss paper paintings sometime in 1984, when her son Lyle casually brought her a package of the papers which he had picked up at the local Asian market. Thus began her challenge of working with what was already given, i.e. incorporating that shiny square of gold or silver already on the paper into her work and making it her own. Over the years her approach to the small square evolved, with her leaving it whole, covering it partially, scraping some of it off, or painting over it. 

Here, in one of her earlier joss paper paintings, one can still see the entire gold square and its orange remnant largely untouched or unmarred. Together, they appear as a bright, yet receding, focal plane in a gray perspectival composition. Notice the very thin vertical edge of bright blue along the left, which almost appears as a sliver of light penetrating the otherwise muted surrounding colors and patterns. And then there is that horizontal dash of green somehow centering the whole.

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