Monday, January 9, 2017

Ilya Bolotowsky's Bridge Between Cubism and Suprematism

Ilya Bolotowsky (Russian-American, 1907 –1981) was born in St. Petersburg. His family fled Russia on the eve of the Russian Revolution. They first went to Baku on the Caspian Sea in the Republic of Georgia, and then to Constantinople. Eventually his family immigrated to New York City in 1923, where he attended the National Academy of Design from 1924 to1930.

Bolotowsky was associated with an art group called "The Ten Whitney Dissenters," or simply "The Ten"; which included artists like Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko, who rebelled against the academic system and held their own independent exhibitions.

He was a leading artist in early 20th c. abstraction in the United States. Influenced by Cubism, especially the work of Georges Braque, Paul Klee, and Hans Arp, Bolotowsky began his professional career as a figurative expressionist. His work sought for philosophical order through visual expression, embraced Cubism and geometric abstraction and was influenced by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

Because Bolotowsky was later influenced by the De Stijl movement, which advocated the concept of an ideal order within the visual arts, he gradually eliminated biomorphic form and began to use flat, linear structure. He adopted Mondrian's use of horizontal and vertical geometric abstraction, and used a palette of primary and neutral color. The artwork of Constructivist Kazimir Malevich also had a powerful impact on Bolotowsky's work.

In 1936 Bolotowsky co-founded American Abstract Artists, a group that rejected American Scene painting in favor of an intellectual vision of order and clarity. It was a cooperative formed to promote the interests of abstract painters and to increase the public’s understanding of their art.

Bolotowsky worked for the Public Works of Art Project, and then for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project in New York. His mural for the Williamsburg Housing Project in Brooklyn was one of the first abstract murals done under the Federal Art Project.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, Bolotowsky returned to New York, and resumed his art career, but looked to new artistic sources like the work of Alberto Giacometti. In the late forties, he began to create Neo-Plastic works in which he experimented with the pure elements of geometric painting shape, direction and form by using only straight lines in a plane.
Bolotowsky replaced Josef Albers as chairman of the art department at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. He also taught at Long Island University, the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, and the University of New Mexico.

American Academy of the Arts and Letters
Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptures

Public collections:
Cleveland Museum of Art
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
National Museum of American Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art
the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
San Francisco Museum of Art
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Whitney Museum of American Art

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