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Entries in AAmerican Modernism (1)


Ilya Bolotowsky: An Advocate of Abstraction

Ilya Bolotowsky - Large Blue Horizontal - 1975 - Acrylic on canvas - 28 x 90 in. - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (click photo for larger image)Neo-Plasticism is a Dutch movement founded (and named) by artist Piet Mondrian. It flourished from 1920 to 1940. It is a rigid form of abstraction, whose rules allow only for a canvas sub-sected into rectangles by horizontal and vertical lines, and colored using a very limited palette.

The Russian born American painter Ilya Bolotowsky (1907-1981) was heavily influenced by the Neo-Plasticism. Bolotowsky was born in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg. After the Russian Revolution, his family moved to Istanbul in 1921, then to New York in 1923. The Neoplastic style of abstraction as defined by Mondrian would prove to be the greatest influence on Bolotowsky's work. He began producing his own strictly abstract art in the early 1930s, and his admiration for Mondrian's approach is evident even in such late works as the one featured here, Large Blue Horizontal. Like Mondrian, Bolotowsky strove to establish a balance of horizontals and verticals that would be simultaneously harmonious and dynamic.

Bolotowsky was a constant and strong advocate of abstract art. He was a founding member of American Abstract Artists, which included American artists as well as European artists living in America, among them Fernand Léger, Joseph Albers, Jean Hélion, and Mondrian himself. Bolotowsky was also a member of The Ten, an artists' group that included Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb. (All of these artists are discussed elsewhere on What About Art?)

During the Great Depression, Bolowtowsky created a number of abstract murals for buildings in New York, as part of the WPA’s Fine Arts Project. In 1946, he was appointed head of the art department at Black Mountain College in Asheville, NC, which ceased operations in 1957. This was the first of many teaching positions Bolowtowsky would hold throughout his career.