Friday, October 12, 2012

Bolotowsky, Ilya

Blue Tondo
c. 1980
Silkscreen on heavy paper
61 x 61 cm (24 x 24 in.)
Bryce Hudson Collection, Louisville, KY, USA

Ilya Bolotowsky (1907 - 1981) was a leading early 20th-century painter in abstract styles in New York City. His work, a search for philosophical order through visual expression, embraced cubism and geometric abstraction and was much influenced by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

Born in Russia to Jewish parents in St. Petersburg, he lived through World War I and the Russian Revolution, then, after spending his childhood in Istanbul  in Turkey, fled and immigrated to the United States while still a teenager. The violent upheavals of his early life led to his search for "an ideal harmony and order … a free order, not militaristic, not symmetrical, not goose-stepping, not academic."

Having moved first to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and then in 1923 to New York, he studied at the National Academy of Design in New York and developed an interest in the biomorphic forms of Surrealist art, as well as geometric abstraction. He painted his first non-objective work in 1933 and was a founder-member of American Abstract Artists in 1936.
The Neoplastic style of abstraction defined by Piet Mondrian would prove to be the greatest influence on his work. Mondrian practiced a form of purely nonrepresentational art, in which compositions of right angles and primary colors held no associations with the natural world. However, unlike Mondrian, Bolotowsky did not limit himself to primary colors in his painting, preferring instead to emphasize a variety of colors and geometric forms.

During the Depression of the 1930s he painted numerous abstract murals under the auspices of government-sponsored art programmes. During World War II, he worked for a while in Alaska as a translator. When he returned to New York in 1946, he taught at Black Mountain College, an important art school in North Carolina. He stayed there until 1948 and then took teaching positions at other schools, among them the University of Wyoming and the University of Wisconsin. By the late 1940s, he was concentrating on a coloristically diverse variant of Piet Mondrian’s Neo-plasticism, the style that characterized both the painted columns Bolotowsky began to make in the 1960s and the paintings of the rest of his career.

Even the work of Jackson Pollock, aroused ''empathy", Bolotowsky remarked in the interview, ''empathy is not really an abstract thing.'' For Bolotowsky, true abstraction was struggling for ''an essence of harmony remote from any empathy.''