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Jules Olitski Artworks

Russian-American Painter

Jules Olitski Photo

Born: March 27, 1922 - Snovsk, Ukraine

Died: February 4, 2007 - New York, New York

Artworks by Jules Olitski

The below artworks are the most important by Jules Olitski - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Cleopatra Flesh (1962)

This "stain painting" exemplifies Olitski's early work as a member of the Color Field movement. To create its bold, simple composition, Olitski poured diluted paint onto a large canvas measuring nearly nine feet in height. The vibrant, unmodulated pigment has soaked into the fabric of the canvas; although there is no brushwork, the artist's hand is still evident in the carefully plotted arrangement of curved and circular shapes. Since the diluted polymer paints dried quickly, and no changes could later be made, the artist's handling of his medium needed to be skillful and purposeful.

Tin Lizzie Green (1964)

For the transitional works that fell between his early stain paintings and his well-known spray paintings, Olitski used rollers to apply very thin layers of paint to the canvas. This superimposition of colors resulted in varying effects of density - for example, the dark area at the top of the canvas where green overlaps red. The edges of the canvas were masked while the large fields of color were rolled onto the canvas. After uncovering those edges, the artist added a yellow streak to the left side and three colored dots along the right margin. This combination of techniques marked a newly experimental phase in his art. Olitski later remarked, "That the paintings I was doing with rollers, such as Tin Lizzie Green, would lead to the spray gun couldn't have been foreseen by me. But they did."

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Patutsky in Paradise (1966)

In his breakthrough works of 1965 through 1966, Olitski began using high-powered spray guns to apply paint to canvas. This technique produced seamless layers of sheer color that seem to flow into one another without any evidence of the artist's hand. In these works, Olitski's goal was to capture the effect of the pure color floating in the air, as though he were defying the limits of the two-dimensional canvas (and of gravity itself). The work's title refers to "Prince Patutsky," a nickname that Olitski's stepfather had given him in his childhood. Olitski used this name for several works of his works from the mid-1960s. Here, its juxtaposition with the word "paradise" and the painting's bright palette may indicate a feeling of pure joy, untethered to earthly difficulties.

Rephahim Shade - 2 (1974)

In the mid-1970s, to the consternation of his previous supporters, Olitski abandoned his spray guns and vibrant colors in favor of a monochromatic palette and broad, gestural brushwork. Although his work of this period remained abstract, its dark, earthy tones and expressive paint application were inspired by his love of such European Old Masters as Rembrandt and El Greco. The title includes a Biblical reference: "Rephahim" (or "rephaim") is an ancient Hebrew word for the "shadows" or "shades" of the dead. Olitski may have thought that his ghostly layers of lighter and deeper tones resembled spirits caught within a chaotic darkness.

Lives of Angels (1990)

In the later 1980s and early 1990s, Olitski reintroduced color into his work. Lives of Angels is painted in thick layers of iridescent acrylic paints. The shimmery gloss of the acrylic, in combination with the sweeping strokes of impasto, gives the completed painting a sense of movement and lush tactility. Olitski applied the paint not only with a brush but also with his own fingers (wearing a special mitt), so that his touch was literally present on the canvas. In some areas, the surface of the paint rises nearly an inch off the support. Despite an ongoing lack of support for his recent stylistic evolution, the artist was unrepentantly displaying his love of paint itself and of the play between color, light, and texture.

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With Love and Disregard: Rapture (2002)

At the age of 78, Olitski painted a well-received series of paintings named With Love and Disregard (2002), in which he came full circle to the vivid colors and curvilinear forms of his 1960s Color Field canvases. However, the result was now raw and elemental, with crackled surfaces and harsh contrasts. During these late years, Olitski worked in a studio on Bear Island in New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee. Bear Island's rocky shore and dense forests, and its dramatic views of sunset and sunrise on the water, doubtlessly inspired Rapture's deliberate roughness and its juxtaposition of burning bright golds with deep blacks and blues. Once again, the artist had fearlessly combined his "love" for his medium with a "disregard" for the rules of art-making.

Related Artists and Major Works

To Miz - Pax Vobiscum (1964)

Artist: Hans Hofmann (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Hofmann's first wife, Miz, was a constant support and companion to him for almost 60 years, and after her death he painted this vibrant canvas as a memorial. He used the relationship of bright colors to create shapes expressing his feelings of loss.

Canyon (1965)

Artist: Helen Frankenthaler (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

The topographical features of the landscape often served as inspiration for Frankenthaler's abstract imagery. With its brilliant red wash filling most of the canvas, Canyon reflects the change in Frankenthaler's artistic practice introduced several years earlier, when she began replacing turpentine-thinned oil with watered-down acrylic poured in larger stains and blots. The painting's gentle luminosity evokes the art critic Nigel Gosling's 1964 description of Frankenthaler's work, written in connection with the artist's London gallery exhibition of that year: "If any artist can give us aid and comfort, Helen Frankenthaler can with her great splashes of soft color on huge square canvases. They are big but not bold, abstract but not empty or clinical, free but orderly, lively but intensely relaxed and peaceful."

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