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Oral history interview with Ilya Bolotowsky, 1968 March 24-April 7

Bolotowsky, Ilya, 1907-1981


Collection Information

Size: 197 Pages, Transcript

Format: Originally recorded on 2 sound tape reels. Reformatted in 2010 as 12 digital wav files. Duration is 6 hr., 37 min.

Summary: Interview of Ilya Bolotowsky conducted 1968 March 24-April 7, by Paul Cummings, for the Archives of American Art.
Bolotowsky, a lively raconteur, recalls a host of episodes from his personal and professional life. He speaks of his childhood in Russia and Azerbaijan; the effects of war and communism; the family's flight as refugees into Georgia and then to present-day Istanbul; and his early education with a private tutor and at a Jesuit school in Istanbul. Bolotowsky recalls his family's emigration to the United States by ship in 1923; his first impressions of New York City; and early visits to the city's museums. He relates numerous anecdotes about faculty and fellow students at the National Academy of Design, including Ivan Olinsky, Raymond Neilson, Charles Hawthorne, Amedee Ozenfant, and William Henry Johnson.
He speaks of various early exhibitions of his work, including those with the Art Students League, G.R.D. Studio, and the J.B. Neumann Gallery. He also describes a stay at Yaddo in 1934.
Bolotowsky recounts his participation in the Public Works of Art Project as a teacher of art to delinquent children; later work on the mural project of the Works Progress Administration; the picketing of WPA offices, providing anecdotes about Max Spivak and Joseph Vogel; military service during World War II, first working on a Russian dictionary of technical terms and then as a liason officer with the Soviet Air Force in Nome, Alaska.
Upon his return from the military, Bolotowsky immediately resumed his painting career, and describes his involvement with artists' organizations such as the American Abstract Artists, the American Artists' Congress, the Concretionists, the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, and the Ten; he mentions in these contexts such personalities as Byron Browne, Burgoyne Diller, Werner Drewes, Arshile Gorky, Clement Greenberg, Balcomb and Gertrude Greene, Harry Holtzman, Fernand Leger, Piet Mondrian, and Meyer Schapiro.
Bolotowsky gives an extensive description of his experiences filling in for Joseph Albers for a year at Black Mountain College, and goes on to discuss his subsequent teaching positions at the University of Wyoming (including a discussion of the impact of the Wyoming landscape on his painting), Brooklyn College, Southampton College, and SUNY New Paltz. He devotes great attention to the development of his painting, his understanding of neo-plasticism and abstraction, and his efforts in filmmaking and playwriting.

Biographical/Historical Note

Ilya Bolotowsky (1907-1981) was a Russian-American abstract painter in New York, New York.


These interviews are part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and others. Funding for the interview was provided by the New York State Council on the Arts.

Language Note

English .

How to Use This Collection

ACCESS RESTRICTED; written permission required.

Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Ilya Bolotowsky, 1968 March 24-April 7. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.