Dusti Bongé nude watercolor of circus performer

For this week’s artwork in the partnership between See Great Art and the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation, we take a look at a Dusti Bongé nude: Untitled (Surrealist Nude Female with Tattoos)​, 1945 watercolor and ink on paper, 13 3/4″ x 10”.

Analysis of the Dusti Bongé nude watercolor comes from Ligia Römer, PhD, Executive Director at the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation, with offices located in Biloxi and open to visitors for discovery.

By: Ligia Römer

The circus offers an escape from reality, which it cannot achieve without its large cast of characters. These characters fascinate us, because they do things most of us would never be able (or willing) to do. We are all familiar with them: lion tamers, acrobats, contortionists, escape artists, clowns, fire-eaters, sword swallowers, and trapeze artists.

Then, at least back in the day, there would be another set of odd characters that were often part of the side show or
“freak show,”  including giants, conjoined twins, bearded ladies, and tattooed persons. All were part of the rich, highly surreal, visual delights the circus had to offer. And this surreal world intrigued and inspired Dusti Bongé. She painted many a circus scene during her surrealist years.

Here we have a blonde-haired, nude, tattooed lady covered in anchors, hearts, flowers, snakes, fish, doves and sundry tattoos. Whether she was a real character or a subsequently conjured figment of Dusti’s imagination hardly matters. What matters is that this tattooed lady captures the complete and utterly surreal spectacle that was the “freak show.”

What also matters is that Dusti Bongé in fact painted this character with great appreciation for her unique enchanting
qualities, and depicts her as a person full of joyous life. Dusti could actually both delight in, and at the same time respect, the strange beauty of this tattooed person. The way Dusti represents the tattooed lady is really not like a freak at all, but as a wonderful, almost imaginary being. This illustrates how artists both perceive and express certain things in a completely new light, thereby offering us a new way to see these same things.

In the 1950s, freak shows pretty much vanished, for various scientific and moral reasons. Today, some television shows offer the equivalent oddities for the insatiably curious. And of course, tattooed persons are no longer oddities.

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