Ilya Bolotowsky is a clarion voice of 20th century art. It is no surprise that the twentieth century, with its world wars, post-colonial realignments, superpower rivalries, and the constant clash of radical and reactionary politics, was best expressed as abstraction. From the century’s beginning to its last days, many artists, writers and intellectuals explained our chaotic world on its own terms: as fractured words and images. They disassembled reality, exposed our fragmentation, and sought to reconstruct a saner world.
For Ilya Bolotowsky, that saner world, and the art that should express it, could only be realized through a pursuit of purity of the parts to create a harmony of the whole.
Born to Russian-Jewish parents in Saint Petersburg, Ilya Bolotowsky grew up in the Caspian Sea town of Baku. His childhood was marked by the upheavals of World War I and the Russian revolutionary uprising. At the outbreak of the revolution in 1917, Ilya Bolotowsky’s family fled Baku for the Republic of Georgia and then to Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey. In 1923, when Ilya Bolotowsky was 16 years old, the family finally arrived in the United States, settling in New York.
New York in the 20s was the center of American art and intellectual activity. It was fueled in large part by other immigrants who brought progressive ideas into the more tradition bound American expression. The teenage Ilya Bolotowsky quickly became part of this cultural energy, enrolling in the National Academy of Design in 1924 at the age of 17.
By 1930 Bolotowsky became increasingly influenced by the abstract painters, particularly the Cubists and other non-objective practitioners, including Paul Klee and Hans Arp. This fascination with abstraction deepened in 1932 during a ten month sojourn in Europe, where Ilya Bolotowsky immersed himself in the latest ideas of the European Modernists and the Russian Constructivists. But it was the clear, clean purism of Piet Mondrian who would have the greatest influence on Bolotowsky.
Back in the United States, Ilya Bolotowsky developed a visual vocabulary of straight lines at precise right angles that met and diverged to create an elegant surface of plane geometry. The influence of Mondrian’s supercharged rhythms inspired Bolotowsky’s creation of serene harmonies in pursuit of intellectual perfection. Over time, his initial use of muted colors grew brighter, more varied and playful yet still in service to a rigorous purity.
Ilya Bolotowsky’s advocacy for abstract art put him in the company of other leading American Modernists. In 1935 he joined with Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb and others as “The Ten,” artists who stood against objective or “literal” painting. In 1936 he became a founding member of American Abstract Artists, whose mission was to champion avant garde art and provide exhibition space for abstract artists.
Today, Ilya Bolotowsky is esteemed as a major force in American Modern Art. His work is represented in important collections and institutions including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Phillips Collection, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Brooklyn Museum, the Harvard University Art Museum, among others.
References: Ilya Bolotowsky: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1974. Reink Books, New York, 2017
Ilya Bolotowsky: Paintings and Columns, by Ilya Bolotowsky. University Art Museum, University of New Mexico, 1970.