Born in New York City, Preston Dickinson began his artistic education at the Art Students League, notably studying with George Bellows, Ernest Lawson and William Merrit Chase. Like so many artists of this time, Preston Dickinson traveled to Paris in 1910 and spent much of the next decade studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian. Dickinson exhibited at the Salon des Artistes and was exposed to the contemporary paintings of Gris, Braque, Picasso, and Cezanne. He was also influenced by the Orphism of Kupka and Delaunay, the Improvisations of Kandinsky, and Duchamp’s Nude Descending the Staircase a year before its unveiling to the American public at the Armory Show of 1913.
In the mid-1910s, Dickinson developed a fascination with Japanese woodcuts whose chromatic gradation and variable texture he emphasized in his compositions. According to Thomas Hart Benton, the two artists explored Synchronism together in New York in 1916, which is certainly conceivable considering Dickinson’s intensifying prismatic coloring and geometric fracturing of picture planes. Experimenting with a variety of techniques and styles, his work showed influence many other avant-garde art movements, such as Cubism, Futurism, Fauvism,
It was in a frame shop on West 43rd Street, that Preston Dickinson first met Charles Daniel, a New York saloon owner with an uncanny eye for contemporary art. The Daniel Gallery opened in December 1913 and became the first to deal and promote the work of a loosely associated group of American Modernists called the Immaculates or Cubist-Realists, decades later known as Precisionists. Later exhibiting at the gallery alongside the 1920s work of Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keefe, and Ralston Crawford, Dickinson stylistically anticipated, by a number of years, the refined, simplified, and precise structural motifs which typified the dispassionate objectivity of American Precisionism.
In search of artistic inspiration, in June of 1930, Dickinson moved to Northeastern Spain with his companion and fellow painter Oronzo Gasparo. Six months later, he contracted double-pneumonia and died quickly. He was just 41 years old. The following year Duncan Phillips, an admirer of his work, staged a retrospective at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. Dickinson had been prolific, producing nearly two hundred works, a quantity that only appears modest because of his drastically shortened life. Considering his talent, it is difficult not to speculate how Dickinson’s art might have impacted the 1930s and 40s. Certainly, he holds a proper place within the discourse of American Modernism and, if only for a relatively brief period, successfully communicated his distinctive conceptual approach to those aspects of reality he chose to portray.