Bolotowsky, Ilya

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BOLOTOWSKY, ILYA (1907–1981), U.S. painter, sculptor, and filmmaker. Born in St. Petersburg, Bolotowsky was drawing portraits and landscapes at the age of five. At 16 he arrived in the United States via Constantinople, where his family had lived for two and a half years. After studying at the National Academy of Design from 1924 to 1930, he was hired by the Federal Art Project's Works Progress Administration in 1934. Under the auspices of the wpa, Bolotowsky painted several realist works, but soon he turned to abstraction. As a wpa artist, he created one of the first abstract murals, for the Williamsburg Housing Project in Brooklyn (1936). Another abstract mural followed, located in the Health Building in the Hall of Medical Science at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

In 1933 he began to paint abstractly, influenced by the Neo-Plastic works of Piet Mondrian. After his initial reaction, which he described as "shock and even anger," Bolotowsky began to privilege the tensions of pure color and simplified form in vertical and horizontal arrangements, often on shaped canvases since 1947. In 1961 he began to make sculpture. These painted columns, as Bolotowsky titled them, were a natural outgrowth of his interest in the architectonic forms of Neo-Plasticism.

He co-founded "The Ten" in 1935, a group of artists that included Mark *Rothko and *Ben-Zion. The Ten was committed to overthrowing the Whitney Museum's hegemony and promulgation of representational art of the American scene. The group first showed their work collectively in 1938. Bolotowsky also co-founded the American Abstract Artists in 1936. Although his work did not employ Jewish subjects, Bolotowsky showed an abstract painting at the first exhibition of the World Alliance of Yiddish Culture (ykuf) in 1938.

He served in World War ii in the United States Air Force as a translator stationed in Alaska, during which time he complied a Russian-English military dictionary. After the war Bolotowsky taught at various American universities, including Black Mountain College (1946–48) and the University of Wyoming (1948–57). His best-known student is Kenneth Noland.

He made experimental films, including Metanoia, which won first prize in 1963 at the Midwest Film Festival at the University of Chicago. Bolotowsky published articles about his work and compiled the Russian-English Dictionary of Painting and Sculpture (1962).


I. Bolotowsky, Leonardo (July 1969): 221–30; I. Bolotowsky, Ilya Bolotowsky (1974).

[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]