Big Red, 1987, Oil on Canvas, 50" x 78"
Dusti Bongé’s prolific art career spanned more than 55 years. Her work went through several stylistic evolutions, quickly growing more and more abstract.
EARLY WORK 1936-1945
Dusti Bongé began her professional painting career in the mid-1930s. Initially, she depicted scenes of her native Biloxi, partly inspired by Archie’s depictions of the waterfront and cityscape. These included scenes at the Back Bay of Biloxi depicting seafood factories, shrimp boats, and fishing camps, as well as certain quintessentially local scenes of cemeteries, gazebos, and the ever Southern “Shoofly”. She also worked on still life compositions of everyday objects, seashells, fruit, vegetables, and local flowers. Although these early works are figurative and representational in nature, they already exhibit her innate ability to move from a realist to a much more modernist style. She played with geometry and color, creating brightly colored Cubist-inspired, yet still objective, realist works.
Following this early period Bongé entered a period of subjective, surrealist experimentation. In fact, as early as 1938, Bongé had begun to experiment with Surrealism and eventually worked in that style for over a decade. She fully explored the highly individual and dream-like juxtapositions of unrelated elements that sprang from the irrational, subconscious mind, and played with recurring motifs in her compositions.
She created a whole series of works inspired by the Circus, which, with its inherently surreal qualities, offered very rich subject matter. Throughout the early 1950s, her surrealist style continued to evolve as she began her depictions of what she uniquely called “Keyhole People.” Eventually this work became totally abstract.
ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM 1955-1980
The years from 1953-1956 marked a crucial transitional period in her work as she moved from her surrealist explorations into fully abstract work. All representational traces disappeared and were replaced with bold colors, broad strokes, strong gestures, and richly textured paint surfaces.
By 1955 she had embraced the bold, gestural, expressionist painting that dominated American art of the period. Her work exhibited the quintessential spontaneous and improvisational hallmarks of Abstract Expressionism (AbEx), with its rich array of colors, use of large brushes and sweeping gestural marks. Indeed, Abstract Expressionism ultimately became the artistic style in which she found her greatest satisfaction.
At this point Bongé became active in the post-war art scene centered around the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, which had opened in New York in 1946. Betty Parsons is of course credited for her major role in the early promotion of Abstract Expressionism in the art world at large. Dusti Bongé forged a lasting relationship with the AbEx dealer, who would represent her for many years. Parsons gave Dusti her first solo exhibition in April 1956, and several afterwards, which were all critically very well received. Dusti’s association with the Betty Parsons Gallery lasted from 1946 till 1975 when she had her final show there.
Dusti Bongé continued to work in her Abstract Expressionist style throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. During these years she experimented with darker palettes, with three-dimensional paintings or "shape paintings", and with “pictures for windows” created with color pigments in fiberglass.
LATER WORK 1980-1991
Throughout the 1980s, Dusti continued to create a very strong body of abstract work, including some monumental oil paintings. In contrast to some of these large works, starting in the mid 1980s she began a series of delicate jewel-like small abstract watercolors. The intimacy of these little watercolor paintings appealed to her, and they became her preferred medium. Many of these works were painted on small “Joss” papers, sheets of bamboo or rice paper centered with a small square of gold and/or silver leaf, which were available at the local Asian markets. She painted her last work in 1991.
It became a special challenge to make it seem as if I had placed that little square right there