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William Baziotes

American Painter

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Born: June 11, 1912 - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Died: June 6, 1963 - New York, New York, USA

William Baziotes Timeline

Important Art by William Baziotes

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

The Parachutists (1944)
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The Parachutists (1944)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Duco enamel on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice

Dwarf (1947)
Artwork Images

Dwarf (1947)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Oil on canvas - MoMA

Flesh Eaters (1952)
Artwork Images

Flesh Eaters (1952)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Oil and charcoal on canvas - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Pompeii (1955)
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Pompeii (1955)

Artwork description & Analysis: This work stands out in Baziotes's oeuvre because of its reference to a specific geographic location and its strong use of color. Baziotes was fascinated by ancient Roman civilization and while the painting does not depict anything specifically Pompeian, it evokes both the violence of Pompeii's end and more generally the enigma of the past. The rectangular shape along the upper half of the canvas, for example, references the Roman use of wall paintings in domestic decoration. The all-over, dominating red evokes the fiery and dramatic end of Pompeii in the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius in 1979, when the city was engulfed in lava. The sinuous gray motif in the foreground is less specific and could indicate flames, bulls' horns, or any number of other things, but, along with the black cloud at the center of the painting, contributes to an overall feeling of doom and mystery.

Oil on canvas - MoMA

Dusk (1958)
Artwork Images

Dusk (1958)

Artwork description & Analysis: This work represents Baziotes's mature style: abstracted, biomorphic forms that float in a sea of muted, soft color. The lyricism of the work underscores the artist's interest in poetry and interior states that is especially marked in his work from the 1950s and 1960s. The lack of a defined space for the forms gives the work a timeless feel, while the forms themselves have become less menacing and jagged. With its misty setting and emblem of power, the work evokes a primordial rite or ritual.

Oil on canvas - Guggenheim, New York

Aquatic (1961)
Artwork Images

Aquatic (1961)

Artwork description & Analysis: The sea, as a place of unfathomable depth and ancient origins, was a common theme in Baziotes's work. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Baziotes became increasingly interested in evoking an oceanic or aquatic feeling through subtle and shifting grounds of color. The shapes here recall seaweed or underwater creatures, and the sharp edges of Baziotes's early biomorphic forms have been smoothed and further abstracted. In a 1959 issue of the journal It Is, Baziotes described his interests this way: "It is the mysterious that I love in my painting. It is the stillness and the silence. I want my picture to take effect very slowly, to obsess and to haunt." This late work shows a delicate but clear shape against an aqueous, amorphous background. The contour lines of Baziotes's earlier period have all but disappeared.

Oil on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York



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William Baziotes Photo

Related Art and Artists

Bathers by a River (1917)
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Bathers by a River (1917)

Artist: Henri Matisse

Artwork description & Analysis: Matisse regarded this picture as one of the most important in his career, and it is certainly one of his most puzzling. He worked on it at intervals over eight years, and it passed through a variety of transformations. The painting evolved out of a commission from Matisse's Russian patron, Sergei Shchuckin, for two decorative panels on the subjects of dance and music, and, initially, the scheme for the picture resembled the idyllic scenes he had previously depicted in paintings such as Joy of Life (1905-06). However, his transformations gradually turned it into more of a confrontation with Cubism, and it is for this reason that the picture has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Although Matisse rejected Cubism, he certainly felt challenged by it, and this picture - along with many he painted from 1913 to 1917 - seems to be influenced by the style, since it is very unlike his previous, more decorative work. It is far more concerned with faithful representation of the structure of the human figure, and its position in space. The painting might be compared to The Backs series (1909-31), which also preoccupied Matisse the years he was working on Bathers, since both address the problem of depicting a three-dimensional figure against a flat background.

Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago

The Tilled Field (1923)
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The Tilled Field (1923)

Artist: Joan Miró

Artwork description & Analysis: Populated with complex, often inscrutable forms, The Tilled Field, with its puzzling iconography, is an abstract depiction of the landscape of Miró's Catalan homeland. The painting, teeming with organic forms that merge and meld seemingly in defiance of nature, is a testament to Miró's ever-increasing stylization and abstraction at this point in his career. The picture may be viewed as both an homage to Spain's past and a statement on the contemporary political upheaval in Europe. In works like this one, as well as works from the period leading up to and throughout World War II, Miro frequently expressed his own political sentiments. The painting also emphasizes how extremely radical Miró's departure was from his previous, naturalist style once he arrived in Paris and was exposed to the avant-garde art of that city where innovation thrived.

Oil on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

The Three Musicians (1921)
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The Three Musicians (1921)

Artist: Pablo Picasso

Artwork description & Analysis: Picasso painted two version of this picture. The slightly smaller version hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but both are unusually large for Picasso's Cubist period, and he may have chosen to work on this grand scale because they mark the conclusion of his Synthetic Cubism, which had occupied him for nearly a decade. He painted it in the same summer as the very different, classical painting Three Women at the Spring. Some have interpreted the pictures as nostalgic remembrances of the artist's early days: Picasso sits in the center - as ever the Harlequin - and his old friends Guillaume Apollinaire, who died in 1918, and Max Jacob, from whom he had become estranged, sit on either side. However, another argument links the pictures to Picasso's work for the Ballets Russes, and identifies the characters with more recent friends. Either way, the costumes of the figures certainly derive from traditions in Italian popular theatre.

Oil on canvas - Philadelphia Museum of Art

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