Dusti Bongé Keyhole People

As the first Mississippi artist to exclusively work in a Modernist style, Dusti Bongé went through a Surrealist period. On the global stage, this movement was at its peak during the 1930s and 1940s as the Western world and its artists were in the disastrous clutches of depression, fascism and world war.

Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí are the most well-known practitioners of Surrealist art, but the movement featured a variety of exceptionally talented women including Leonor Fini and Leonora Carrington. And Dusti Bongé.

This artwork introduces us to Bongé’s “Keyhole People,” part of her exploration of Surrealism. Analysis of the piece comes from Dusti Bongé Art Foundation Executive Director Ligia M. Römer.

Dusti Bongé, The Spiral: Fav-o-rite Sketchbook – p.7, 1953, watercolor on paper, 6” x 4”

This small work is in a sketchbook that is part of a group of about ten spiral bound Fav-o-rite Sketch Books that Dusti Bongé used frequently between 1950 and 1953. Most of these sketch books are still in good shape considering their age, insofar that they still have their front and back covers and the paper has not completely frayed at the spirals. 

While most of the “spirals” in this group are 5” x 7,” this particular one is even smaller, a mere 4” x 6.” Each book originally contained 30 sheets, but none of Dusti’s still do. 

Each of these sketch books is filled with her enigmatic surrealist Keyhole People, with their vague resemblance to human figures, and the majority of those sketches are ink drawings. But there are occasional exceptions where she brings in a bit of color. And then there is this sketch book, which contains seven sheets of watercolor compositions amongst sixteen pen and ink Keyhole People.

These pieces start veering away from the surrealist figures and toward complete abstraction. They are not simple ink drawings, but little watercolor paintings with faint pencil lines underneath and a few ink marks. Some still have a hint of keyhole figures in them, but this sketch has completely moved away from that.

This is not a drawing of identifiable figures, but an abstract composition with a strong form that has no representational quality or narrative content. It consists of a dominant, folded, black figure that snakes from the top, left of center, to the bottom, right of center. It is diagonally flanked by black circles completing the basic layout. These shapes together are foregrounded against a mustardy gold ground and a central blue area, and highlighted on one side in white. 

It’s a genuinely abstract work allowing colors and forms to play off one another.

This small spiral bound sketch book thus contains some of the first works that launched Dusti’s subsequent 40-year pursuit of abstraction in her art.

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