Ilya Bolotowsky

1907 - 1981

Ilya Bolotowsky was a Russian born abstract artist heavily influenced by the De Stijl principles followed by geometric abstract artists such as Piet Mondrian. He embraced neoplasticism, cubism and expressionism, utilising these stylistic approaches throughout his life’s work. Bolotowsky was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists, as well as a member of the expressionist group the Ten.

Table of Contents

Ilya Bolotowsky: Overview

Ilya Bolotowsky was born in 1907 in Russia, and he faced much turbulence in his early life. Living through both the First World War, and the Russian Revolution, Bolotowsky found himself fleeing to America to avoid the upheavals he had faced in his home country. He was still only a teenager when he arrived in New York in 1923.


Bolotowsky studied at the National Academy of Design from 1924 to 1930, and upon leaving his studies Bolotowsky worked as a textile designer, before shortly heading to travel around Europe. His appreciation for geometric abstract art and cubism remained strong, however his time spent in Europe leaned more towards expressionism. Once back in New York, Bolotowsky resumed his textile work, but this didn’t last long as he applied to work on an abstract art mural. Headed up by fellow abstract artist Burgoyne Diller, this mural had been commissioned in 1936 for Brooklyn’s Williamsburg House, a public housing project in New York. Other abstract artists such as Balcomb Greene, Paul Kelpe, and Albert Swinden also worked alongside Bolotowsky on the mural.

Bolotowsky’s love of geometric abstraction shone through in this mural, and the influences of Miró and Mondrian began to pave the way for his future artwork. Bolotowsky’s work over the coming years would play with colour, geometric shapes and lines, as well as biomorphic forms. It was an ode to his fascination and love for these powerhouse abstract artists. However, with his oil painting ‘In the Barber Shop’, commissioned for the Public Works of Art Project, Bolotowsky experimented with much more than the lines and geometric shapes that were often seen in his work during the 30s. With the vivid and enticing colours, the barber shop appears warm and inviting and truly is a testament to the duality of Bolotowsky’s abilities.

1936 American Abstract Artists

A notable mention here is the group American Abstract Artists. Alongside the likes of Burgoyne Diller and Josef Albers, Bolotowsky was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists. They aimed to promote abstract art, in a time when it met a lot of criticism.

1940s to Bolotowsky’s later years

During the Second World War, Bolotowsky served in the Army Air Corps for the Allied powers, before going on to teach at various universities and colleges across America. In the 1940s is when Bolotowsky began to look closely at the geometric artwork of those around him, such as Diller and Swinden, and his work underwent a shift. Bolotowsky minimised his colour palette to just primary colours, much like we see in the artwork of other abstract artists around this time, and he experimented with various other shapes too.

Bolotowsky remained true to his neoplasticism roots throughout his life, with his ‘Last Completed Painting’ in 1981 using various rectangular and square shades of yellow, as well as vertical and horizontal lines of white, grey and red. Before his death in the same year, Ilya Bolotowsky had also tried his hand at experimental filmmaking, another artistic flare to add to his archive.

Ilya Bolotowsky’s artistic influences

Ilya Bolotowsky took inspiration from many geometric abstract and expressionist artists throughout his life. Whether that be artists he worked alongside, or admired from afar, they shaped his artwork from the 1930s up until his death in 1981.

In his early work, Bolotowsky was influenced by the works of Spanish painter Joan Miró and Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich and their use of colour and shapes. In Bolotowsky’s 1930s art work we can see that he used a variety of biomorphic forms, and an extensive colour palette. And this undoubtedly stemmed from the artistic influences of Miró and Malevich. During Bolotowsky’s time spent in Europe he also took inspiration from cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger. Which again, to some extent can be seen in his work of this period.

However, during the 1940s, Bolotowsky was exposed to Dutch abstract art pioneer Piet Mondrian and the De Stijl principles of neoplasticism; as many of the influential abstract artists he worked alongside also practised, and thus there was a move towards flat lines and geometric shapes in Bolotowsky’s work.

It is easy to spot the shift from his 1930s influences to the 1940s onwards in which period he began to minimise his colour palette and focus on geometric shapes, which was a common neoplasticism style. Ilya Bolotowsky carved out his own style, all the while paying homage to his several artistic influences.

Ilya Bolotowsky & cubism

Cubism: Founded by Picasso and Braque,

During a trip to Europe in 1932, Ilya Bolotowsky became interested in cubism, and he undeniably took inspiration from the famous cubist artists of the time, such as Picasso and Léger, in his artwork.

View: The History Of Cubism for more information

Ilya Bolotowsky & neoplasticism

Neoplasticism: From the Dutch ‘de nieuwe beelding’, neoplasticism focuses on primary colours, straight lines and rectangular shapes.

Neoplasticism shaped most of Bolotowsky’s artwork, and with Mondrian as his main artistic influence, this style shone through in his artwork from the 1940s to his later life. The Dutch De Stijl principles founded by Theo van Doesburg and practised by Piet Mondrian, was heavily present in Bolotowsky’s work in the form of geometric shapes and primary colours.

Ilya Bolotowsky & expressionism (The Ten)

Expressionism: In art, expressionism is the distortion of reality. It is used to express, as well as evoke, certain moods, ideas or feelings.

From 1935 to 1940, Bolotowsky became part of an expressionist art group. The group called themselves ‘The Ten’, despite a previous impressionist group bearing the same name, and the fact that there were only nine founding members.

The Ten included the following artists: Joseph Solman, Mark Rothko, Louis Schanker, Nahum Tschacbasov, Louis Harris, Ben-Zion, Yankel Kufeld and Adolph Gottlieb and of course Bolotowsky. This expressionist group exhibited their art collectively, with several guest artists joining over the years too.