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Arthur Dove: A Reassessment by Alan Pensler, Susan Mullett Smith, Arthur Dove (Artist), Lucia|Marquand, US $50.00, Pp 240, April 2018, ISBN 978-0692762202

Arthur Dove was one of the first American abstract painters whose evocative paintings were inspired by his surroundings such as the farmland of upstate New York and North Shore of Long Island. In Arthur Dove, Alan Pensler and Susan Mullett Smith say that Dove’s career was distinguished by innovation and experimentation. Dove was an independent thinker who had little regard for societal conventions. He was a gifted craftsman. Arthur Dove includes some 130 of Dove’s works of which many are being reproduced for the first time.

Dove was born in 1880 in Canandaigua, New York, a small city in the Finger Lakes region of the western part of the state. When he was two, his family moved to nearby Geneva, where he lived until he joined college. Dove started his artistic career in the early twentieth century during a golden age of illustration – an era when illustrators were in demand in the bustling American publishing industry. He first attended Hobart College in Geneva before transferring to Cornell University in Ithaca, where he studied law but also took a number of art classes. After graduating from Cornell University in 1903 he established an office at the Dove Block as an artist. By 1907, he had moved to New York and become a well-paid illustrator. In 1912 dove had his solo exhibition in New York at Stieglitz’s Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, better known as 291 for its address on Fifth Ave.

Pensler and Smith say that beginning in the 1910s, he produced important modernist works in every decade of his career. While living on the ‘Mona’ in the mid-1920s he created some of his most compelling celestial paintings, including ‘After the Storm,’ Silver and Green (Vault Sky),’ c1923, and ‘Sunrise,’ 1924, and two of his most memorable collages, ‘Goin’ Fishin’ and ‘Grandmother,’ both from 1925. In the 1930s, in addition to painting what he considered some of his best works, Dove began working in watercolor, creating an enduring body of works on paper that today are regarded as an important part of American watercolor tradition. During 1942-44, Dove moved to Centerport and created several hundred miniature works on paper that reiterated earlier artistic themes or were notations for future work. These small works on paper, or “sketches,” as he called them, are precursors of some of Dove’s last major paintings, such as the iconic ‘That red one’ from 1944.

Pensler and Smith say that Dove strove for precision and exactitude. Dove expressed his hope that his art would capture the highest instances of his life experience. He used words such as light, plastic, reaction and inner consciousness in order to clothe his experience in terms as broad as possible and non-committal to any one topic or discipline. While no doubt in his attempt to define his terms, Dove allowed himself a definition of experience so broad he could explore a wide range of interests from theosophy and the occult to philosophy and the sciences, while at the same time, maintaining his Christian beliefs. Dove’s Christianity had the elasticity to remain central to his life without restraining his intellect. While Dove’s art and writing reveal the connection he saw between light, truth, and Christ, the exact nature of how he understood this connection is a matter of conjecture. Dove’s viewpoint was most likely conventional. In other words, truth through Christ casts light to bring clarity to humankind.

Arthur Dove is a provocative account of Arthur Dove’s life and work. The authors shed new light on some unexplored aspects of Arthur Dove’s paintings and help understand abstract painting. They also explore for the first time how Arthur Dove’s Christian beliefs impacted his art. They also discuss the impact of early twentieth-century in physics on Dove’s painting. The authors have reinterpreted many of Dove’s works. This is a necessary study to understand not only Arthur Dove but also abstract painting. This beautifully-manufactured book will make your living room a lot more livable.

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