Ilya Bolotowsky

Born in Russia in 1907, Ilya Bolotowsky left his native country in his early childhood. The family was forced to emigrate as a result of his parent’s anti-Communist sentiments. They traveled first to Constantinople, then settled in New York City in 1923. Bolotowsky enrolled at the National Academy of Design in 1924. He tried out many styles in this period, ranging from the representational and classical to the abstract and expressionistic. In the early 1930s he became a designer of textiles. In 1932 Bolotowsky spent ten months in Europe. Although he was already familiar with prevailing modernist movements, the opportunity to study a wide range of these works and to meet some of the artists who had made them affected Bolotowsky profoundly. As a result of this trip, Bolotowsky began to synthesize aspects of Cubism with the abstract Surrealism of artists like Miro and Arp. These softer, floating forms gave way to a rectilinear geometry as he became more influenced by the Constructivists and Mondrian. Upon his return to the United States, Bolotowsky married his fellow painter Esphyr Slobodkina. In 1934 he worked for the Public Works of Art Project, a precursor of the Works Progress Administration-Federal Art Project for which he executed murals. In 1937 Bolotowsky created abstract murals for the Williamsburg Housing Project and in 1939 he painted a mural for the Hall of Medical Science for the New York World’s Fair. Both commissions showed Bolotowsky seeking to balance his interest in the biomorphism of Miro with his developing sense of geometry. By the 1940s Bolotowsky’s art had become more rigorously Neoplastic. It was probably nudged in that direction because of his friendships with fellow American Abstract artists Burgoyne Diller and Albert Swinden. Initially Bolotowsky titled elements of his grid for a more dynamic feeling. Eventually, however he embraced the pure grid and the limited palette of primary colors, and in the 1960s he began to apply these principals to three dimensional columns. Bolotowsky served in the Army Air Corps in World War II. After returning to the United States, he replaced Josef Albers at Black Mountain College in North Carolina for two years. This was the beginning of a long, academic career that included teaching positions at the University of Wyoming, Brooklyn College and the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater. He held short-term appointments and adjunct positions at Hunter College, Queens College and the University of New Mexico. Ilya Bolotowsky (July 1, 1907 – November 22, 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 to Jewish parents in St. Petersburg, Russia, Bolotowsky immigrated to America in 1923 via Constantinople, settling in New York City. He attended the National Academy of Design. He became associated with a group called "The Ten Whitney Dissenters,"[1] or simply "The Ten," artists, including Louis Schanker, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko and Joseph Solman, who rebelled against the structures of the Academy and held independent exhibitions. During this period, Bolotowsky came under the influence of the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and the tenets of neoplasticism, a movement that advocated the possibility of ideal order in the visual arts. Bolotowsky adopted his mentor's use of horizontal and vertical geometric pattern and a palette restricted to primary colors and neutrals. In 1936, having turned to geometric abstractions, he was one of the founding members of the American Abstract Artists, a cooperative formed to promote the interests of abstract painters and to increase understanding between themselves and the public.

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