Ilya Bolotowsky: Russian/American (1907 – 1981)
Ilya Bolotowsky was a mid 20th century artist who was influenced greatly by the De Stijl and Neoplasticism movement set into place by artists like Piet Mondrian, Theo Van Doesburg, Bart Van Der Leck and Fritz Glarner. Mainly defined by vertical and horizontal lines and primary colors.
Ilya Bolotowsky was born in 1907 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and immigrated with his family to New York in 1923. After studying from 1924 to 1930 at the National Academy of Design, Bolotowsky received his first one-man show at New York’s G.R.D. Studios in 1930. On a trip to Europe in 1932, he became interested in the cubist style of Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger. During the early 1930s, he became a member of the Ten, a group of expressionist artists that included Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, who were exploring the use of abstraction for expressive purposes.
In his early works, Bolotowsky formed abstract images on the flat picture plane by combining biomorphic and geometric elements inspired by both Miró and the Russian Constructivist Kasimir Malevich. This style especially characterized Bolotowsky’s numerous murals for the Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Project in the late 1930s. Bolotowsky was one of the founding members of the American Abstract Artists, a New York organization active during the 1930s and 1940s that opposed realistic styles and embraced non-objective subjects based on pure form and color. In 1940 the famed painter Piet Mondrian moved to New York, and it was the pure geometric abstraction of the older artist’s work that had profound influence on Bolotowsky’s art. Mondrian’s stylistic clarity aided Bolotowsky in his goal to strip his paintings of any direct reference to nature and explore universal balance. Unlike Mondrian, however, Bolotowsky did not limit himself to primary colors in his painting, preferring instead to emphasize a variety of colors and geometric forms.
During World War II, Bolotowsky worked for a while in Alaska as a translator. When he returned to the “lower 48” in 1946, he taught at Black Mountain College, an important art school in North Carolina, replacing Josef Albers, who was on sabbatical leave. He stayed there until 1948 and then took teaching positions at other schools, among them the University of Wyoming, State Teacher’s College, New Paltz, New York, and the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. It was not until 1974 that Bolotowsky received his first one-man museum show, held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Bolotowsky died in 1981.