Dusti Bongé pastel drawing with figures

I love the sparseness with which Dusti Bongé created the drawing we’re sharing this week as part of our partnership with the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation in Biloxi, MS. A few lines. A few dashes of color. As much empty space as colored space and – voila – two figures rowing a boat against a strong headwind.

The entire composition may have only taken 10 minutes for her to produce. I am fascinated by the skill required to conjure a picture featuring this much storytelling with this little detail where nothing existed previously. Part of the magic of art.

Analysis of the artwork comes courtesy of Ligia M. Römer, Executive Director of the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation.

Figures Rowing, 1939, pastel on paper, 7 1/2” x 11 1/4”. Paul Bongé Collection

Dusti Bongé’s often cubist representations of various Biloxi waterfront and harbor scenes, or her landscapes and cityscapes, all captured the quality of the place or space without lending them any clear sense of scale.

Her usual scenes would include boats, piers, masts, trees, factories, and miscellaneous buildings, often rendered from her unique bird’s-eye view.

In these many drawings and paintings Dusti made of her surroundings during the early years, rarely did she use conventional perspective and even more rarely – an interesting thing to note – did she include any people in the scenes.  

Here we have a rare exception, a waterfront scene with two figures in a boat. In the background you can see a strip of land, with some sparse trees. This is most likely Deer Island, one of the many coastal barrier islands, and the one that is clearly visible standing on the beach in Biloxi. In the foreground there are white caps on the water indicating the motion of the waves. In the middle the two figures in the boat are slightly hunched over, as if bracing against the wind as they row into it. 

The layering of foreground, middle ground, and background, aided by the presence of the two human figures, sets up a more conventional sense of perspective. Unlike her typical scenes with multiple objects presented at various angles, here we have just the one rowboat amidst sparse surroundings.

The whole scene is skillfully rendered with quick dynamic strokes of pastel.

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