“In the early forties I still used diagonals. A diagonal, of course, creates ambivalent depth, diagonal depth might go either back or forth. It’s not like perspective which goes only one way. … I had to give up diagonals because the space going back and forth was becoming too violent. The diagonal space was getting in the way of the tension on the flat surface. You cannot get an absolute flatness in painting because of the interplay of the colors, the way they feel to us. But you can achieve relative flatness, within which the colors and the proportions might push back and forth creating an extra tension. This tense flatness must not destroy the overall flat tension, which, to my mind, in two-dimensional painting is the most important thing.”
- Ilya Bolotowsky
Russian-born American painter Ilya Bolotowsky’s work is highly recognized for its synthesis of early 20th-century artistic styles and movements from the United States and Europe. Though born in 1907 in St. Petersburg, where he lived through World War I, Bolotowsky and his family emigrated from Russia following the Russian Revolution, while he was still a teenager. They settled in New York, where he was exposed from a young age to a thriving international art scene. Shortly after arriving in the US, he enrolled at the National Academy of Design, where he studied until 1930.
After graduation Bolotowsky spent a couple years working as a textile designer and settlement-house art instructor. With what he was able to save from these jobs, along with a modest scholarship, he traveled to Europe and lived there for ten months, a sojourn that would prove pivotal in his artistic development. During his time there, he became familiar with the work of such artists as Joan Miró and Piet Mondrian. Later, Bolotosky espoused many of the De Stijl principles that animated Mondrian, but he supplemented them with aspects of Cubism and Russian Constructivism.
Upon his return Bolotowsky spent the rest of the 1930s experimenting with a variety of artistic styles, and he joined the Ten, an Expressionist group that included artists Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb. He then served in the US Army Air Corps at the outbreak of World War II, and after his discharge taught for two years at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, renowned for its legacy of artistic and educational innovation. A series of professorships at various colleges took him across the country through the mid-1960s. During this period, he continued to pursue his own artistic experimentations, working off tenets of Neo-plasticism as explored and refined elements of abstraction until his death in 1981.
Bolotowsky’s work reflects the abundance of competing artistic styles and movements that emerged during the first half of the 20th century, and he is revered for the inventiveness he brought to his explorations of these developments. His works can be found in the collections of such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, both New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Dallas Museum of Art; and the Art Institute of Chicago.