Andrew Michael Dasburg was born in Paris on May 4, 1887. A young Andrew and his widowed mother immigrate to America in 1892, where Dasburg spent his childhood in the New York City neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen. In 1902 one of his teachers, recognizing Dasburg's gift for drawing, brought him to the nearby Art Students League and persuaded the school to accept him as a student. Of his instructors, Robert Henri was most inspirational to the young art student. Henri's philosophy was to battle against tradition, and to consider every direction in art and life that led to truth. Henri also stressed the importance of a well-defined substructure.
Robert Henri encouraged Dasburg to pay particular attention to establishing a clear sense of weight and mass for the forms in his pictures. This became one of Dasburg's major aims. He believed, like Spinoza, that God proclaimed the logic of all things in the harmonies of nature. Like Einstein, whom he greatly admired, Dasburg felt that God created structures in nature in simple, rather than complex, formulas. These views had a tremendous impact on Dasburg's art.
In 1909 Dasburg traveled to France. His experiences there would forever change his path as an artist. While in Paris he had the opportunity to visit Matisse's studio to watch him work. Dasburg vividly recalled the sight of the great master painting the early version of a group of dancers. He noted that Matisse's line "had limpidity and casualness, without being forced at all." This experience gave the young artist an indelible lesson in how to invest form with the vitality of life itself, without resorting to details. On another occasion, Dasburg discovered in a shop window some paintings that fascinated him. In his own words, "I came upon a small gallery where, in the window, were three or four paintings by Cézanne, whose name I had heard mentioned but knew nothing of … I was immediately impressed by the great plastic reality of the paintings … I looked for a long time. I was completely imbued by what I saw - one of those things that rarely comes to one but when they do, they are forever memorable."
Dasburg would be the first to say that his life as an artist can be divided neatly into two parts: before and after he encountered Cézanne's work in Paris in 1910. Until he discovered Cézanne, Dasburg was slowly finding his way as an artist under the guidance American mentors. Only a few months after seeing and absorbing the lessons of Cézanne, he had adjusted his style to conform to his hero's concepts of pictorial form and space. Like Picasso, who read in Cézanne's work the same message that Dasburg did, the American painter felt that he could use the artist's techniques and theory and create an art that was entirely his own.
When Dasburg returned to the U.S. in 1910, he went to Woodstock to live and work. The stimuli bombarding him at this time led him to new intellectual formulations that he was eager to spread among his colleagues. Having discovered Cézanne and Cubism, he understood at once how together they could serve as the model for the future development of his art and modern art in general. Three years later, Dasburg exhibited his paintings at the now infamous Armory Show of 1913, which is often regarded as the single most important event in the history of American contemporary art.
Dasburg was not impressed by the American works shown at the exhibit. He was however, deeply moved by the works of Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky. By the end of the fall of 1913, Dasburg was painting pictures that were close to pure abstraction. His flirtation with purely abstract art lasted for less than three years. By 1916, he had developed his mature style out of an amalgam of what he had learned about managing abstract shapes from Cubism. Now he returned to recognizable subjects, with nature as a starting point. Forms were simplified, but recognizable, and stated in geometric terms.
In 1918, Dasburg was summoned to New Mexico by his good friend Mabel Dodge. Dasburg found the new environment enormously stimulating. Living and traveling in the dramatic mountains and valleys of the country around Taos fortified Dasburg's resolve to give up purely abstract art as an expressive vehicle. Under the influence of the Southwestern landscape, his pictorial language ripened. The elemental majesty and power of nature became the primary focus of his artistic expression. Pure form and color were subordinated to the task of measuring the land and people of New Mexico in pictorial forms quite different from, though related to his abstract work.
By the mid-1920s, Andrew Dasburg was at the forefront of American Modernism. It was he who brought the Taos artists to the notice of the nation. Back in Woodstock, it was his artistic revolt against John Fabian Carlson and Birge Harrison that infused that artist colony with Modernism. Sharing a studio in Woodstock with the Synchromist Morgan Russell, Dasburg helped propel Woodstock into the avant-garde. It was his efforts in New York City that created the Sunflower Club, a group of artists in the Art Student's League who rejected the solemn Tonalist palettes of Kenyon Cox and Birge Harrison.
Although ill health slowed his output in the late 1930s, Dasburg continued to be a major force in American art, selling paintings in the 1940s to both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Andrew Dasburg continued to paint until his death on August 13, 1979 at his home in Taos.