New York, New York, USA
Summary of William Baziotes
William Baziotes was a New York painter whose lyrical and often mysterious works relied heavily on subject matter derived from biomorphism and Symbolist poetry. He was an integral part of the Abstract Expressionist circle and exhibited with them frequently. Like his peers, he was deeply committed to concerns of paint application and abstracted forms, yet his interest in the medium of paint was combined with many sources for his imagery to produce works that evoked particular moods, or dream-like states - often more closely related to European Surrealism than to Abstract Expressionism. This duality in his work was described as "biomorphic abstraction" and was influential to artists such as Mark Rothko.
- Baziotes was one of the few Abstract Expressionist artists who remained committed to the figure. He took his early Surrealist-inspired explorations further by creating strange, primitive imagery that seems to have been pulled from the darkness of the subconscious. His works in this vein were described as "biomorphic abstraction" because of his use of organic forms and other figurative elements that were not easily identifiable.
- Unlike his Abstract Expressionist peers, even Baziotes' most experimental canvases contain a structured, almost grid-like composition that was influenced by early Cubism and the artist's work with stained glass. In conjunction with this underlying structure, however, Baziotes also felt that art should evoke emotions and moods through color, shape, and paint application, thus many of his works have a lyrical or poetic element.
Biography of William Baziotes
William Baziotes was born in 1912 to Greek parents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His family moved shortly thereafter to the working class city of Reading, Pennsylvania, where Baziotes spent his childhood. As a young adult, Baziotes worked at the Case Glass Company from 1931 to 1933, antiquing glass and doing other chores while taking an evening drawing class. It was in Reading that Baziotes met Byron Vazsakas, a poet who became a good friend and who introduced the painter to the work of Charles Baudelaire and the Symbolist poets, whose writing would have a significant impact on his work throughout his life. Vazsakas encouraged Baziotes to pursue art and Baziotes moved to New York City to study painting in 1933.
Important Art by William Baziotes
The Parachutists showcases several of Baziotes's early influences. His interest in Cubism was short-lived but is evident in the faceted rendering of the parachutes and the grid-like geometry of the composition. His debt to Surrealism and especially their automatist techniques can be seen in the drips of paint that run down the canvas along with the scumbled brushwork through which color is directly blended on the canvas. The brilliant color and the heavy dark lines reveal his debt to the aesthetics of stained glass. The subject matter is a possible homage to the parachutists of D-Day who, at great risk to their lives, were dropped behind enemy lines at the beginning of the invasion of Normandy in 1944.
This work is one of a group of paintings from 1947 that are all distinguished by a single figure dominating the composition. The primitive, grotesque figures are derived from Surrealist biomorphism and are not clearly human or animal. Like The Parachutists (1944), this work is also about war, but without the lighthearted, almost playful quality of the former. Dwarf instead captures the gruesomeness and violence of war in its reference to a mutilated figure without arms who has oversized, sharp teeth. All of the images in the group have concentric circles or spaces in their lower halves that are meant to be suggestive of female genitalia or targets. The works are a good example of the "biomorphic abstraction," that marked much of the artist's output, characterized by organic forms that are familiar, resembling both plants and animals, but that do not coalesce into recognizable shapes. His use of such imagery is perhaps tied to his interest in Symbolist poetry that is characterized by indirect descriptions, making multiple meanings possible.
In the early 1950s the artist turned more to abstracted depictions of nature with less of a focus on surface and paint handling and, indeed, Baziotes began to eliminate brushwork altogether by repetitive rubbing of the oil paint on the surface. In Flesh Eaters the soft application of paint creates a soft lyrical or poetic quality that contrasts markedly with the title of the work and thus creates ambiguity. The forms have become less recognizable than in the previous decade, evoking a primitive, primordial world where enigmatic and sometimes aggressive plant and animal forms float and collide.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on William Baziotes
- William Baziotes: Paintings and Drawings, 1934-1962By Michael Preble
- William Baziotes: The Poetic SpiritBy Robert Reed Cole, Louis A. Zona, Ethel and Baziotes
- William BaziotesBy Roberta Smith / The New York Times / November 29, 2012
- The Shooting StarBy George Negroponte / BOMB Magazine / November 16, 2012
- One-Eyed JackBy Carroll Dunham / Artforum / Summer 2011
- William BaziotesBy Grace Glueck / The New York Times / October 19, 2001
- A Misfit Emerging from OblivionBy Michael Kimmelman / The New York Times / February 3, 1995
- Baziotes Show Marks a Meditate Artist's BirthBy Alan G. Artner / The Chicago Tribune / April 23, 1987