Ilya Bolotowsky


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Painter and sculptor. His sensuously colored arrangements of hard-edge, geometric form reflect a search for ideal harmony. Born in St. Petersburg, he spent much of his childhood in Baku, Russia (now Azerbaijan). After the Russian Revolution, the family fled to Istanbul and in 1923 continued on to the United States. Bolotowsky became a citizen in 1929. He enrolled in 1924 at the National Academy of Design, where he studied for six years. In 1931 he left for nearly a year in Europe. At the outset of his career, he worked as a figurative expressionist, but after returning from abroad he experimented with abstraction. At first, drawn to the work of Kandinsky and Miró as well as Malevich and Mondrian, he incorporated both rectilinear and organic forms in compositions of flat, nonillusionistic shapes. By the early 1940s he had purged his art of biomorphic elements, and for the rest of his career he worked solely with horizontal and vertical divisions. Although Mondrian's neoplasticism inspired these works, Bolotowsky composed with smaller divisions in more varied colors. From the late 1940s, he often varied the shape of the canvas itself, using diamonds, circles, and ovals. He later also created brightly colored relief constructions and freestanding columnar sculptures. Between 1934 and 1941, while working for federal art projects, Bolotowsky created some of the relatively few government-sponsored abstract murals, and in 1936 he numbered among founding members of American Abstract Artists. After serving in World War II, he taught at Black Mountain College and the University of Wyoming before returning permanently to New York in 1957. He also wrote fiction and plays and made experimental films.

His first wife, versatile painter, sculptor, and illustrator Esphyr Slobodkina (1908–2002), became most widely known for the children's books that she illustrated and sometimes wrote. In her art, she synthesized elements of cubism, constructivism, and abstract surrealism in clever and vigorous works. Born in Chelyabinsk, Siberia, she arrived in New York in 1928 and soon enrolled at the National Academy. In the 1930s she worked for federal art projects and participated from the beginning in the activities of the American Abstract Artists. She and Bolotowsky married in 1933 but divorced after a few years. From 1948 she lived for many years in Great Neck, on Long Island. In 1960 she married longtime companion William Urquhart. She died at her home in Glen Head, Long Island.

Subjects: Art.

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