Born on June 8, 1916, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to a musician-poet mother and an artist-writer father, Richard Pousette-Dart began to paint from the early age of 8. He spent his childhood in Valhalla, New York, and then briefly attended Bard College in the Hudson River Valley, New York, in 1936. When he was 20 years old, Pousette-Dart moved to New York to pursue a career as an artist. Just one year later, in 1937, he became an assistant to Art Deco sculptor Paul Manship and subsequently worked as a secretary in Lynn Morgan's photography studio until 1939. The latter appointment instilled a passion for photography that would remain with the artist even after he chose painting as his primary medium.
In 1941 the Artists' Gallery, New York, hosted Poussette-Dart's first solo exhibition, and soon after he was showing his work at many of the galleries that supported the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. He was included in the inaugural Forty American Moderns exhibition at Howard Putzel's 67 Gallery in 1944 and had solo shows at Peggy Guggenheim's gallery-museum Art of This Century in 1947 and Betty Parsons Gallery the following year. Pousette-Dart quarried many of the same sources, including Surrealism and Jungian psychology, as his fellow Abstract Expressionist painters, and his early efforts are similarly indebted to the work of Pablo Picasso and the art of non-Western cultures in their use of totemic forms, emphatic color, and pronounced gestural brushwork. Although he appeared with some of the major figures of the movement—including Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, and Clyfford Still, in a now-famous 1951 Life magazine photograph that labeled the group the "Irascibles"—Pousette-Dart usually preferred to work in solitude, without public attention. He resided outside New York, first in Sloatsburg, New York, from 1951, and then in Suffern, New York, from 1958, which further contributed to this widespread perception of his independence from his colleagues. His move to the country also reflects the influence of Eastern philosophy and American transcendentalism on his artistic practice.
Pousette-Dart was continually invested in the formal nature of his medium, and in the early 1950s he made a series of paintings using a variety of white paints, primarily titanium and permalba, reworking old canvases and thinly painting on top of previous impasto. He also began to create abstract works in bright colors and reduced, geometric forms that have been likened to mosaics. His early work, often marked by black contour lines and mythical subject matter, evolved to become increasingly light in tone and more focused on spiritual ideals. From the 1960s he developed a dotted, almost pointillist style to create works dedicated to the exploration of color, texture, and form. He pursued these foundational concerns in his later work, creating into his eighth decade works that conveyed a harmony of universal forms.
From 1949 to 1972, Pousette-Dart regularly showed work in the Whitney Annuals (later Biennials), and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, also held his first major retrospective (1963) and two subsequent solo exhibitions (1974, 1998). Additional solo shows were presented by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1969–70); Indianapolis Museum of Art (1990); and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1997). His work also was the subject of a traveling exhibition held at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Galleria Gottardo, Lugano, Switzerland (2007). Pousette-Dart died in New York on October25, 1992.