Work of the Week: Ilya Bolotowsky, “Abstraction”

By on January 3rd, 2022 in Blog, Work of the Week

(American, b. Saint Petersburg, Russia, 1907-1981), Abstraction, 1947, Oil on Linen, 18 x 25 1/2 in. The Alfond Collection of Art at Rollins College, Gift of Barbara ’68 and Theodore ’68 Alfond, 2017.15.1 © Estate of Ilya Bolotowsky/Licensed by VAGA, New York

When I look at this painting, I am drawn to the deep, yet restrained areas of color and to its orderly structure. There is something soothing and reassuring in its meticulous balance; the perfectly clean edges of each shape and their precise existence on the canvas evoke in me a sense of stability.

One of the key figures in the history of American abstract art, Ilya Bolotowsky immigrated from Russia in 1923 at the age of 16. Although his legacy is multifaceted—in addition to painting and sculpture, the artist also created prints, murals, and textile designs—his contribution to the advancement of abstraction in America is paramount. Bolotowsky was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists, an organization established in New York in 1936, which created opportunities for non-figurative artists. The AAA was also instrumental in advocating for the inclusion of American abstract artists in the collections and exhibitions of major museums such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Bolotowsky was influenced by Joan Miró and especially by Piet Mondrian’s crisp, geometric style and use of primary colors. His approach to surface and space was also informed by Suprematism and other forms of non-objective art. In this work, Bolotowsky’s treatment of the picture plane creates the illusion of depth and suggests a dynamic dialogue between shapes, lines and color that activates the piece upon lengthy contemplation.

Engaging with art in challenging situations can provide respite and solace and remind us to find joy and beauty in basic things we often take for granted. As the new year unfolds and presents us with unexpected questions to consider and new goals to pursue, once again, I turn to art. It seems that for Bolotowsky, abstract art provided the order and balance needed in a historical moment that saw enormous socio-political changes as well as defining shifts in the art world. In his own words:

“Nowadays, when paintings torture the retina, when music gradually destroys the eardrum, there must, all the more, be a need for an art that searches for new ways to achieve harmony and equilibrium, for an art where, as Mondrian said: ‘inwardness is brought to its clearest definition, or externality, is interiorized to the highest degree’; for an art that strives for the timelessness of the Platonic ideas. To this art I hope to continue making my contribution”[1]

Gisela Carbonell, Ph.D.

See this work by Ilya Bolotowsky on our Collection page.

[1] Ilya Bolotowsky, “On Neoplasticism and My Own Work: A Memoir.” Leonardo, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Jul. 1969), p. 230.