On this Day… Two Abstract Artists Were Born
Article written by Caroline Haller
June 8th was an important day for abstract art in America because two modern abstract artists were born on this day in history! Harry Holtzman was born June 8th, 1912, and Richard Warren Pousette-Dart was born on June 8th in 1916.
Holtzman was a founding member of the American Abstract Artist Group and Pousette-Dart was a major player in the abstract expressionist movement.
Harry Holtzman (1912-1987)
Born in New York City in 1912, Harry Holtzman created abstract paintings, sketches and sculptures.
In his early career, Holtzman was part of the Art Students League of New York, where he attended classes. In the early 1930’s Holtzman helped to secure the instruction of two German abstract artists George Grosz (1893-1959) and Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) at the League. Under the influence of the German abstract artists, the students of the League developed new styles of abstract art that paved the way for the development of modern art in America.
Then, in the mid-1930’s, Holtzman traveled to France where he was introduced to Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). Mondrian was known for his color field paintings or the simple geometric shapes, in primary colors, that made up his paintings.
Figure 1. Untitled, Harry Holtzman c. 1938, © Harry Holtzman’s estate 2022.
An untitled work by Holtzman shows the influence that Mondrian had on his work. (Figure 1) Untitled (1938) features a series of horizontal and vertical lines and painted color fields in primary colors. Additionally, there is a Mondrian-esque sculpture by Holtzman at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. The white, blue, red and yellow color blocking mimics Mondrian’s 1930’s “compositions.”
Richard Warren Pousette-Dart (1916-1992)
Pousette-Dart, who was born on June 8th, 1916, in Saint-Paul, Minnesota, became known as an abstract expressionist. First used to describe the German expressionists like Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1844), the designator “abstract expressionism” eventually became synonymous with the modern abstract art being produced in New York in the 1940s.
Pousette-Dart created expressionist drawings, paintings, sculptures and even experimented with photography. The artist was influenced by African, Egyptian, and Native American art as well as the cubist and surrealist movements, such that his art reflected an amalgamation of many influences.
Pousette-Dart also utilized many different techniques including squeezing the paint directly on to the canvas from the paint tube. He painted with brushes and palette knives. Therefore, looking at each painting was a new experience for the viewer. His art, like the art of many of the abstract expressionist artists, featured gestural lines and thick impasto built up off the surface of the canvas.
Pousette-Dart said, “Art reveals the significant life, beauty of all forms – it uplifts, transforms it into the exalted realm of reality wherein its pure contemplative poetic being takes place – wherein art’s transcendental language of form, spirit, harmony means one universal eternal presence.” As evidenced by the quote above, Pousette-Dart was concerned with showing the moments of acute existential awareness.
Figure 2. Icarus, Richard Pousette-Dart, 1951, oil on linen, © 2022 Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
For instance, the titular figure of Icarus in a painting from 1951, is depicted in frantic golden lines, which allude to the moment when Icarus flew too close to the sun. (Figure 2) Icarus, in Greek mythology, was the son of Daedalus. In order to escape captivity on Crete, the pair created a set of wings out of wax and feathers. Icarus ignored his father’s orders not to fly too close to the sun and the heat from the sun melted his feathers, causing him to plummet into ocean. This moment, that Pousette-Dart depicts, is the transformative moment where Icarus’s mistake causes his peril. This electrifying instance, in between the point of no return and the realization of the consequences, causes us to question our own existence and life choices.
Pousette-Dart has been represented by the Pace Gallery since 2013, and the gallery featured an exhibition in 2016 for the 100th anniversary of his birth. The 2016 exhibition also coincided with the 75th anniversary of his first show, which as it happens took place at the Willard Gallery on 32 east and 57th St. in Manhattan, in the same building that the Pace Gallery now owns.
To conclude, these two important abstract artists were born on June 8th in 1912 and 1916. So, today we celebrate their 110th and 106th birthdays respectively!
Though their artistic styles differed, both Holtzman and Pousette-Dart were part of the New York School of abstract artists that shaped the future of modern art in America.
 Gopnik, Blake, “At the Carnegie, Harry Holtzman wanted to have Mondrian’s Baby” ArtNet News, November 12, 2015. Accessed May 6, 2022. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/carnegie-harry-holtzman-wanted-mondrians-baby-362270
 “Richard Pousette-Dart Works 1940-1992” Pace Gallery, 2019, Accessed May 6, 2022. https://www.pacegallery.com/exhibitions/richard-pousette-dart-2/