Impulsion by Mavis Pusey

Impulsion by Mavis Pusey


Mavis Pusey



color lithograph 
Image Size
16 1/4 x 21" image size 
pencil, lower right 
Edition Size
132 of 157  
pencil titled, dated, and editioned 
cream Curtis Rag watermarked wove 
Inventory ID

Jamaican-born printmaker Mavis Pusey was studying at the workshop of Birgit Skiold in London when she created "Impulsion" defined as "the force or motive behind an action or process". This image is an early example of Pusey's lifelong study of bold color and form, "Impulsion" is a strong color lithograph exemplifying mid-centry modernist aesthetic and the printmaker's desire to coax movement and depth from a flat matrix. We see Pusey's signature use of earthy hues offset by a bright pop of contrasting color, in this case a vibrant, deep cyan that dances across the surface of the paper.

Pusey was among the artists of the 20th century for whom pure shape and color remained at the forefront of her creative output. She rarely delved into figurative work, preferring the possibilities within non-representational composition. Later works became more structured, more reflective of the mind of an engineer - unsurprising, as she learned to pattern and sew her own clothing by the age of nine, and she worked as a pattern maker for Singer while she studied overseas.

Mavis Pusey worked in hard-edge geometric abstraction in her painting and printmaking and Impulsion is a fine example of her imagery. This field of painting was dominated by men, key artists being Ellsworth Kelley, Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Karl Benjamin, Frederick Hammersley, and Lorser Feitelson.

In his essay “The Paradoxes of Gallerist and Artist Suzanne Jackson” author Chase Quinn referenced Mavis Pusey: "Best known for her geometric abstractions inspired by the endless construction and demolition of Manhattan streets, Pusey’s work was included in ‘Contemporary Black Artists in America’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1971. Her obituary in The New York Times addressed her lack of recognition in no uncertain terms: ‘It is not because Pusey’s work is any less groundbreaking, pristinely executed or formally and conceptually evocative,’ Melissa Messina, who had previously curated Pusey’s work, was quoted as saying. ‘Simply put: It is because she was black and a woman.’ Messina adds: ‘She was also working in nonrepresentational, hard-edge abstraction – a genre dominated by (and still shrouded in) mythic white masculinity – when figurative and narrative-based work was (and in many ways still is) the prevailing mode of expression for black artists.’

Mavis Pusey, painter, printmaker, and teacher, was born Mavis Iona Pusey in Kingston, Jamaica on 17 September 1928 but grew up in the small rural village of Retreat. Her aunt taught her to sew and, by the age of nine years old, she began fabricating her own clothes. Pusey left Jamaica at the age of eighteen in the hopes of studying at the Traphagen School of Fashion in New York but found the costs were prohibitive despite being employed as a seamstress for a couture wedding gown company.

Between 1961 and 1965, Pusey studied at the Art Students League in New York and received a Byron Browne Memorial Scholarship in 1963 and a Ford Foundation Grant in 1964 to assist her with tuition. At the League, she studied both painting and printmaking under Will Barnet who encouraged her study of modern art. After four years of immersion in the ASL, immigration officers informed Pusey that her student visa had expired. She therefore moved to London where she lived with her brothers, worked as a pattern maker for Singer Corporation, and studied at the Birgit Skiöld Print Workshop on Charlotte Street.

Pusey traveled to Paris in 1968 to continue her studies and she was given her first solo exhibition at the Galerie Louis Soulanges. She returned to the U.S. in 1969 and enrolled in Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, receiving her B.A. Pusey worked at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop between 1969 and 1972 and at the New School for Social Research in New York in 1974, 1976, and 1987. She exhibited with Curwen Gallery in London and Associated American Artists in New York. In 1971, Pusey was included in the seminal show Contemporary Black Artists in America at the Whitney Museum of American Art and in 1986 at the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Progressions: A Cultural Legacy. In 2018, her work was featured in the Kemper Museum's traveling exhibition, Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today.

Pusey received a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant for $5,000.00 in 1972 and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Purchase Award in 1974. She was given the International Women’s Year Award in 1976 in recognition of outstanding cultural contribution and dedication to women and art; and in 1999, Pusey was given a Visual Arts Grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. She also received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation award. Pusey served on the advisory committee of the Elizabeth Foundation of the Arts, New York; and was an Area IV Advisory Panelist for the Virginia Commission for the Arts in 1997.

In 1988, after sixteen years and a determined but losing battle to keep her loft in New York, Pusey found herself adrift. She instructed her real estate agent to find her a home “about two hours outside of Washington.” She settled on a cottage in Orange County, Virginia. “My friends thought I was nutty. I left New York to go live in the bush.”

Pusey taught at the State University of New York, Stony Brook; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Rutgers State University, New Jersey; the New York State Summer School of the Arts; Drew University, Madison, New Jersey; the New School for Social Research, New York; and Woodberry Forest School, Orange, Virginia. She was affiliated with Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors in New York, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Visual Artists and Galleries Association.

Mavis Iona Pusey died in Falmouth, Virginia on 20 April 2019.