ILYA BOLOTOWSKY (1907-1981)
Blue Abstraction in a Square
Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 inches
Influenced by Cubism and biomorphic abstraction, especially the work of Georges Braque, Paul Klee, and Hans Arp, Bolotowsky began his professional career as a figurative expressionist. He gradually adopted a nonobjective style inspired by art of Piet Mondrian, which he first saw in New York in 1933. Bolotowsky's appreciation for Mondrian increased during the late 1930s and early 1940s and he gradually eliminated biomorphic form and began to employ sharply defined linear structures. The work of Russian Constructivist Kazimir Malevich also had a powerful impact on Bolotowsky's development of an art that instead of referring to material objects expressed the interaction of abstract forces.
In 1937, Bolotowsky joined with other abstract artists such as Josef Albers, George L. K. Morris, Werner Drews, Alice Mason, and A. E. Gallatin to found the American Abstract Artists, a group that rejected American Scene painting in favor of the expression of an intellectual vision of order and clarity that transcended the national concerns of the realist painting of the era. He was active in the group's exhibitions, and during his years as a member, he refined his art, exploring the idea of idealized, harmonious balance that is dynamic rather than symmetrical.
During the Depression years, Ilya Bolotowsky worked initially for the Public Works of Art Project, and then for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project in New York. For the latter, he created abstract murals. 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 sources like the work of Alberto Giacometti, and he reconsidered Mondrian. 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 character of form‑‑by using only straight lines in a plane. From his study of Mondrian's work, Bolotowsky became interested in using the diagonal as an agent for depicting moving forms in a flat plane, and exploring color as a means of expressing an expansion and contraction of space. His interest in spatial tensions led him to experiment with canvases of different shapes. He created many diamond-shaped works, and also used other formats such as ovals and rhomboids. From 1946 to 1948, Bolotowsky replaced Josef Albers as chairman of the art department at Black Mountain College in North Carolina.
In addition to painting, Bolotowsky made prints, experimental films, and created three-dimensional painted works. He was a member of the American Academy of the Arts and Letters, the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptures, and other important art associations of his era. A large retrospective of his work was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1974.
Ilya Bolotowsky is represented in many important private and public collections including the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; the San Francisco Museum of Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.