New Orleans sketches from Dusti Bongé

These New Orleans sketches demonstrates Dusti Bongé’s interest in the city. She was born and raised in nearby Biloxi, MS. New Orleans is a city I have come to love visiting for art and much more. SeeGreatArt’s partnership with the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation takes us to the Big Easy this week. Analysis of the artworks comes from Dusti Bongé Art Foundation Executive Director Ligia M. Römer.

Dusti Bongé, The Balcony, c.1941, Oil on canvas, 27 ¾” x 20”

Dusti Bongé, Studies for The Balcony: National Surety Corporation Diary, c. 1941, charcoal on paper, 8” x 5 ½”

Dusti Bongé continuously did sketches, drawings, and quick studies throughout her artistic career. Early on, these sketches were a way to hone her observational and drawing skills. They soon evolved into studies exploring various visual compositions and her own unique perspective on things. These explorations were sometimes new ways to look at familiar things, or ways to express the quality or immediate impression of what she saw. As such the sketches were in essence the artist’s way to “think”.

Dusti Bongé, Studies for The Balcony: National Surety Corporation Diary, c. 1941, charcoal on paper, 8” x 5 ½”
Dusti Bongé, Studies for The Balcony: National Surety Corporation Diary, c. 1941, charcoal on paper, 8” x 5 ½”

In the case of this painting, Dusti was trying to capture the feeling and visual impact that this cast-iron balconied, two-story building, most likely in New Orleans, had on her. She is not at all concerned with depicting the structure with any kind of precision or perspective accuracy. Instead, she captures the frenzied visual spectacle of the arches, windows, gables, balconies, roofs, and sidewalks and how they all come together into a wonderfully messy ensemble.

The unique composition for this painting The Balcony appears at least five times in a sketchbook / datebook from 1941. The sketches are simple charcoal drawings with varying degrees of detail, one even including some puffy clouds beyond the roofs. But through all of them the overall composition does not change very much. 

The Datebook size was only 8” x 5 ½”, but eventually Dusti translated that into a significantly larger painting. The colors in the painting are vibrant and intense, much like New Orleans, thereby adding to the overall visual impact of the scene, and offering a genuine impression of a moment on a sidewalk in front of a building. The painting is not about what the street scene looks like, but what it feels like.

Dusti Bongé, Studies for The Balcony: National Surety Corporation Diary, c. 1941, charcoal on paper, 8” x 5 ½”
Dusti Bongé, Studies for The Balcony: National Surety Corporation Diary, c. 1941, charcoal on paper, 8” x 5 ½”

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