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One of the first American artists to pursue abstraction, Arthur Garfield Dove was committed to translating nature into an abstract vocabulary of color and shape, to record the sensations experienced in nature rather than its precise forms. Born in Canandaigua, New York, Dove graduated from Cornell University in 1903 and began his career in New York City as an illustrator, drawing for The Saturday Evening Post and Harper’s. An extended trip to France with his wife in 1907-09 introduced him to the Impressionists, and to the Fauvist works of Henri Matisse, which he particularly admired. Dove began using the techniques of Impressionism in his own work, while also adopting the bold colors and simplified forms used by Matisse. Returning home, Dove became close with photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, and his first one-person exhibition was held at Stieglitz’s New York gallery, 291, in 1910. By 1912, Dove became bolder in his color choices and elimination of extraneous detail, arriving at a radical abstraction in his work.
Dove called his technique “extraction,” as he worked to extract the essential nature of his subject. He believed that objects and places had inner, elemental spirits that were not reflected in their physical forms. “I would like to make something that is real in itself," he wrote, “that does not remind anyone of any other thing, and that does not have to be explained like the letter A, for instance.” From 1924-1930, while living on a houseboat on the coast of Long Island, Dove produced a series of collages and assemblages, in which he used found objects and cut-out images to create imaginative portraits and landscapes. During the 1930s, he lived on his family’s farm in Geneva, New York, producing abstractions inspired by the rural landscape. Throughout his career, nature remained at the heart of Dove’s creative process. Ever responsive to themes of earth and sky, he became interested in clarifying the “point where abstraction and reality meet.” In his final years, Dove returned to Long Island, where he produced increasingly abstract paintings (even after a heart attack left him a near-invalid), until his death in 1946.
Arthur Dove in Debra Bricker Balken in collaboration with William C. Agee and Elizabeth Hutton Turner. Arthur Dove: A Retrospective, (MA: Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy and MIT Press, in association with the Phillips Collection, Washington DC), 1997, 137.