Born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1907, Ilya Bolotowsky became 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 greatly influenced by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.
Bolotowsky immigrated to New York in 1923 and became a United States citizen in 1929. He studied from 1924 to 1930 at the National Academy of Design; in 1930 Bolotowsky received his first one-man show at New York’s G.R.D. Studios. In 1932, during a trip to Europe, he became interested in the cubist style of Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger. During the early 1930s, he became associated with a group called The Ten, artists including Louis Schanker, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko and Joseph Solman 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 particularly characterized Bolotowsky’s mural for the Williamsburg Housing Project, New York; it was one of the first abstract murals done under the Federal Art Project.*
In 1936 Bolotowsky became one of the founding members of the American Abstract Artists, a New York organization that opposed realistic styles and embraced non-objective subjects based on pure form and color. In 1940 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, the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater and in the1960's he taught humanities and fine arts at the Southampton, NY campus of Long Island University. In 1974 Bolotowsky received his first one-man museum show, held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Bolotowsky died in New York in 1981.
*(The Federal Arts Project (FAP) was the visual arts arm of the Great Depression-era New Deal WPA Federal One program in the United States. Reputed to have created more than 200,000 separate works, FAP artists created posters, murals and paintings; some of which stand among the most significant pieces of public art in the country. Opening August 29, 1935, as the latest in a short series of Depression-art visual arts programs, it closed on June 30, 1943. Its primary goals were to employ out-of-work artists and to provide art for non-federal government buildings: county courthouses, post offices, libraries and the like.)
Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Ct
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Al
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA
Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
Robert Hull Fleming Museum, Burlington, VT
Gotheborg Museum, Gotheborg, Sweden
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, IA
Jerusalem Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Lyman Alyn Museum, New London, CT
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Michener Art Museum, University of Texas, Austin, TX
University of Minnesota, Duluth, MN
Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, NY
Musee d'Art Moderne, Ceret, France
Museum of Fine Arts, Calcutta, India
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Modern Art, New York,NY
National Collection of Fine Arts Washington, D.C.
Newark Museum Association, Newark, NJ
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton NJ
University of New Mexico, Albuqueque,NM
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
Oklahoma Art Center, Oklahoma City, OK
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I.
Edward Root Collection, Utica, New York
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
Salt Lake City Art Center, Salt LAke City
San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, NB
Slater Memorial Museum, Norwich, CT
Societe Anonyme Yale University, New Haven, CT
J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Il
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH
Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT.
“Federal Art Project” http://www.wikipedia.org/
"Ilya Bolotowsky” http://www.phillipscollection.org/