Richard Pousette-Dart, ‘From the Mind of the Sea’, 1962, Sotheby's: Contemporary Art Day Auction

From the Catalogue

"I strive to express the spiritual nature of the universe. Painting for me is a dynamic balance and wholeness of life; it is mysterious and transcending, yet solid and real."—Richard Pousette-Dart

Richard Pousette-Dart's mystical 1962 painting, From the Mind of the Sea, exemplifies the artist’s fascination with the celestial realm and the spiritual and metaphysical quests which lay at the heart of his work. In From the Mind of the Sea, Pousette-Dart paints with the sensibility of an astronomer, one with a capacity for interpreting the sublime, the ineffable, and the inexplicable. He recreates the grandeur of a starry night sky with undulating astral bodies and rhythmic natural phenomena that glisten and shimmer in and out of focus. The rich tangerine hues are contrasted by the frozen ice-blues and white globe at the center of the composition that appears to blaze and flare off the surface. No entity or shape is defined or restrained, but rather set into dynamic motion through a cycle of re-emergence. The canvas rotates and pulsates with fluorescent spirals, swirls, spheres, and arabesques formed by layer after layer of lush paint dots. Pousette-Dart cultivated a keen passion for photography throughout his childhood and was especially fascinated by the pixelated light process by which a photograph is created. He came to interpret both light and color as a holistic integration of hundreds, even thousands, of smaller dot-like components. The influence of photography’s mechanism, therefore, became a pivotal force in Pousette-Dart's own painting process as illustrated through this extraordinary example from 1962.

In many instances Pousette-Dart entirely abandoned the brush, choosing instead to apply paint directly from the tube onto the canvas, resulting in a highly tactile surface teeming with areas of rich texture and sensuous appeal. The tangible quality of Pousette-Dart's paint application combined with his intent to transport the viewer into an otherworldly dimension proposes a certain tension, with the surface simultaneously existing as a portal and as a reminder of the current reality. From the Mind of the Sea thus perpetuates a dichotomy between the 'here' and the 'there' and the 'real' and the 'imaginary.' The painting not only represents and reflects the notion of energy, but it actively creates it. It is in this environment of mythical possibilities that Pousette-Dart indeed champions the imaginary, enabling artist and viewer alike to become absorbed in a transcendental experience.

Pictured in Nina Leen's iconic Irascibles photo for Life Magazine in 1951, Pousette-Dart is included as one of the first generation of American Abstract Expressionist artists and the new wave of post-war abstract art that emanated from the milieu of New York City. Yet from a personality standpoint, Pousette-Dart was fiercely individual and moved beyond the New York scene in the early 1950s after becoming dismayed by the fast-paced art world of dealers, galleries, rivalries and the heavy-drinking machismo of his peers. In late 1951 Pousette-Dart purchased a home in the peaceful Rockland countryside in rural New York, where he was able to write and paint in solitude, free from the commercial pressures of the city. It was in this setting that Pousette-Dart embarked on the most inventive and defining journey of his career, moving away from his previous earthbound subject matter of biomorphic, nature-based formal imagery toward an all-over type of abstraction achieved through layering dots of color in heavy impasto as seen in From the Mind of the Sea. Sam Hunter describes this shift in Pousette-Dart's work, explaining how in the fifties and sixties he moved toward "purification, concreteness, and the expansion of the material medium...[acting] out the conviction that color and paint substance, in their infinitely varied permutations, constitute a self-sufficient medium both powerful and subtle enough to express any idea or emotion" (Sam Hunter, "Richard Pousette-Dart's Spiritual Quest" in Exh. Cat., Fort Lauderdale, Museum of Art, Transcending Abstraction: Richard Pousette-Dart Paintings 1939-1986, 1985, p. 11).

In many ways, the nature of Pousette-Dart’s work after 1950 and his characteristic style relying on attentive, skillful paint application contrasts with those Abstract Expressionist works of automatic grand gesture and paint encumbered with the angst of emotion and action. It is undeniable, however, that Pousette-Dart can be seen as one of the most important American artists of his generation for the harmony of his work discovered through color resonance paired with a resounding concert of shapes and forms. In studying Pousette-Dart’s intuitive brushwork and development of his all-over abstraction style through color field tonality, we unveil a remarkably innovative and unparalleled vision—a man from whom Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, and many more mavericks all learned in their own respective ways.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: signed and dated 62 twice on the reverse; signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 1962 on the stretcher

Coral Gables, Artspace/Virginia Miller Galleries, Richard Pousette-Dart, Paintings from the 1940s to the Present, 1985
New York, ACA Galleries, Paintings from Five Decades: 1939-1990, 1990

Estate of the artist
Waqas Wajahat, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011

About Richard Pousette-Dart

One of the earliest Abstract Expressionists, Richard Pousette-Dart explored a variety of painterly styles, including figurative work, all-over abstraction, pattern making, and Surrealist Automatism. Deeply influenced by Native American art and textiles, Pousette- Dart distanced himself from his contemporaries with an interest in spirituality, his paintings dealing with traditional dualities between light and substance, spirit and body, and harmony and discord. He favored heavy layers of acrylic and oils with small, thick brushstrokes to emphasize luminosity and distinctive colors.

American, 1916-1992, Valhalla, New York

Group Shows

2018
New York,
Mid-Century Abstraction
2013
New York, NY, United States,
Abstract Expressionism / In Context: Seymour Lipton
2012
New York, NY, United States,
INsite/INchelsea: The Inaugural Exhibition
2011
New York, NY, United States,
Abstract Expressionism: Reloading the Canon
2011
New York, NY, United States,
Evolution in Action
2010
New York, NY, United States,
Unconscious Unbound: Surrealism in America
2009
New York, NY, United States,
Abstract Expressionism: Further Evidence (Part One: Painting)
2005
New York, NY, United States,
Organic New York, 1941-1949
1998
New York, NY, United States,
Essence of the Orb
View Artist's CV