Art Career

Big Red, 1987, Oil on canvas


Dusti Bongé’s prolific art career spanned more than 55 years.  What follows is a brief narrative of her stylistic and artistic development.  It offers insight into the depth and breadth of her oeuvre and the varied works in the collection of the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation.

Bongé seriously began her painting career in the mid-1930s.  Initially, she depicted scenes of her native Biloxi.  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 “Shoefly”.  She also worked on still life compositions of everyday objects, seashells, fruit, vegetables, and local flowers.  Although these early works are representational in nature, they already exhibit her innate ability to move from a realist to a much more modernist style.


Bananas, 1943, Oil on canvas


As early as 1938, Bongé began to experiment with Surrealism and worked in that style for over a decade.  She fully explored the highly subjective and dream-like juxtapositions of unrelated elements that sprang from the irrational, subconscious mind.  Throughout the early 1950s, her Surrealist style continued to evolve as she began her depictions of what she uniquely called “Keyhole People.”  


Bird & Flower, 1938, oil on canvas


Then, 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 sufaces.   Indeed, Abstract Expressionism (AbEx) ultimately became the artistic style in which she seemed to find her greatest satisfaction. 

Meanwhile, the Betty Parsons Gallery had opened in New York in 1946.  Betty Parsons, herself an artist, is credited for her major role in the early promotion of Abstract Expressionism in the art world at large.  Dusti Bongé forged a relationship with the Abstract Expressionist dealer, who would represent her for many years.  Parsons gave Bongé her first solo exhibition in April 1956.  Bongé’s work from this period features the quintessential spontaneous and improvisational hallmarks of AbEx, with its rich array of colors, use of large brushes and sweeping gestural marks.

(See: Betty Parsons Papers and Gallery Records, 1927-1985)


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Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, NY,  November 12- December 1, 1962


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Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, NY,  November 12- December 1, 1962


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Dusti painting in her studio, Biloxi MS, late 1950s.

Credit: Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Bongé continued to work in her Abstract Expressionist style throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, but with a somewhat darker palette.  Her final show at the Betty Parsons Gallery was in 1975.

However, throughout the 1980s, Bongé continued to create a very strong body of abstract work, including some monumental oil paintings.  In contrast to some of these large works, during the late 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 on Joss paper, sheets of bamboo or rice paper centered with a small square of gold or silver leaf, which were available at the local Asian markets.  “It became a special challenge,” she said, “to make it seem as if I had placed that little square right there.” She painted her last work in 1991.


Exhibitions of work

Bongé’s work has been exhibited at:

Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans

Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi

Mississippi Museum of Art

Mobile Museum of Art.

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The Gallery Up, Ocean Springs MS, September 1971.

Museum Collections

Dusti Bongé’s work is in the permanent collections of various institutions and museums, as well as in a growing number of private collections throughout the United States.

Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY

Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA

Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, SC

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS

Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS

Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile, AL

Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA

Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO

Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington , DC

Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA

Radford University Art Museum, Radford, VA

St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Saint Mary City, MD

University of Southern Mississippi Art Museum, Hattiesburg, MS

Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Ocean Springs, MS

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Dusti with Death of Maggie – Sunflower Dream No. 1

[Credit: Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution]


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Dusti with Circles Penetrated

[Credit: Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution]