William Baziotes: A Centennial Exhibition, Surrealist Drawings of the 1930s, is on view at the Susan Teller Gallery through December 29, 2012.
The work of William Baziotes generally combines Surrealism with an abstractionist aesthetic. The drawings in this show, however, are early, 1936 to 1941. They are pre-Abstract Expressionism and pre-World War II. It is Surrealism with sunbathers at seas littered with warships, bulls with raised fists, and struggling pictographs. Sometimes, however, there is a bizarre joie de vivre: dancing girls with fans, hairdos, and multiple body parts. The frequent use of gouache adds brightness and intense color.
In a November 30 New York Times Review Roberta Smith noted the "Slightly deranged boldness and sometimes vicious ebullience of Baziotes's efforts seem ahead of their time. Electric colors are favored, along with looping lines that morph into startlingly exaggerated, churning figures of one kind or another."
William Baziotes (1912-1963) was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania, where an early mentor was the poet Byron Vazsakas. In 1931 Baziotes saw work by Henri Matisse at the Museum of Modern Art. It was a defining experience and he moved to New York City in 1933. He attended the National Academy of Design and worked with Charles Curran, Ivan Olinsky, Gifford Beal, and Leon Kroll. He graduated in 1936 and then worked on the Works Progress Administration. He was a teacher at the Queens Museum of Art, 1936-38, and an easel painter, 1938-40.
In 1936 Baziotes met the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico and he showed his work for the first time, at a group show at the Municipal Art Gallery. By 1940 he knew Jimmy Ernst, Gordon Onslow-Ford, Gerome Kamrowski, Andre Masson, Roberta Matta, and Jackson Pollock. Also in 1940 Baziotes exhibited with the surrealists in a group show at the New School.
In this period Baziotes attended Stanley William Hayter’s printmaking studio, Atelier 17, which opened its New York venue in 1940. It was a gathering place for the European ex-patriots and the American modernists; automatism was a frequently used technique and subject of endless discussion. The work Collaborative Painting, an exercise in automatism, made by Baziotes, Gerome Kamrowski, and Jackson Pollock, is dated 1940-41.
In 1941 Baziotes married Ethel Copstein; they lived in Morningside Heights. Also that year Matta introduced Baziotes to Robert Motherwell. In 1942, at the invitation of Masson, Baziotes showed with Motherwell and David Hare in the First Papers of Surrealism show at the Whitelaw Reid Mansion. However, he was gradually drawn to abstraction.
Baziotes’ first one-man show was at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in 1944. A show in 1946 at the Kootz Gallery established representation that continued until 1958. In 1948, with David Hare, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko, Baziotes founded the Subjects of the Artist School on East Eighth Street. He taught at the Brooklyn Museum School, the Museum of Modern Art, Hunter College, and New York University.
In 1962 his work was in the landmark show Ten American Painters at the Sydney Janis Gallery. In the 1965 the Guggenheim Museum held a Memorial Exhibition.
In the summer of 2012 two paintings were included in Signs & Symbols at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Reading Public Museum held William Baziotes’ 100th Anniversary Exhibition. This current exhibition, William Baziotes, A Centennial Exhibition, Drawings of the 1930s, is on view at the Susan Teller Gallery, New York, NY, November 15 through December 29, 2012.
The entire show may be viewed at:
Susan Teller Gallery