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Artists Jules Olitski
Jules Olitski Photo

Jules Olitski

Russian-American Painter

Movement: Color Field Painting

Born: March 27, 1922 - Snovsk, Ukraine

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

Jules Olitski Timeline


"What I would like in my painting is simply a spray of colour that hangs like a cloud, but does not lose its shape."
Jules Olitski
"When the conception of internal form is governed by edge, color (even when stained into raw canvas) appears to remain on or above the surface. I think, on the contrary, of color as being seen in and throughout, not solely on, the surface."
Jules Olitski
"Decisions are being made a mile a minute while you're making the work, and it has to come out of experience and vision."
Jules Olitski
"I work day and night without sleep. The paintings keep me fired up."
Jules Olitski
"I think of painting as possessed by a structure.. but a structure born of the flow of color feeling."
Jules Olitski
"In the bedroom darkness I may visualise a way of making a painting. I can see it - if I do this and this and that and this, my God! Why haven't I seen this until now? I can hardly wait to get to the studio and make the vision real."
Jules Olitski
"Expect nothing. Do your work. Celebrate!"
Jules Olitski

"Color in color is felt at any and every place of the pictorial organization; in its immediacy - its particularity. Color must be felt throughout."

Jules Olitski Signature


Jules Olitski was a Russian-born American painter who was instrumental in the development of the Color Field school. Like his contemporaries Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis, Olitski stained the surface of his canvases in a technique that rejected the gestural brushwork of the then-popular Abstract Expressionist artists. With their emphasis on material, surface, and color's emotional strength, his signature works eliminated the illusion of depth and any evidence of the artist's touch. Although Olitski did not remain as well known as some of his fellow Color Field painters, his abstract "spray paintings" of the 1960s are still considered landmark works of this movement.

Key Ideas

Olitski was interested in conveying the evocative power of pure color. In his paintings of the 1960s and 1970s, he rejected any suggestion of imagery or narrative, taking abstraction to its outer limits.
Olitski pioneered a technique of applying paint to unprimed canvases with an industrial spray gun. He was thus able to show the paint at its airiest and most dematerialized, as though it were still floating in the air rather than fixed on the canvas. In this way, Olitski directed the viewer's attention to the essential qualities of color itself.
The misty fields of paint in Olitski's signature works are remarkable for their subtle tonal gradations and their luminosity. Even in his later work, when he used heavy brushwork and a denser application of pigment, Olitski masterfully explored chromatic relationships and the interaction between color and light.


Jules Olitski Photo


Jules Olitski was born Jevel Demikovsky in Snovsk, Russia (now Ukraine), on March 27, 1922. His Bolshevik father was executed by the White Russian army a few months before his birth. In 1923 his mother and grandmother brought him to the United States, where the family started a new life in Brooklyn, New York. His mother remarried in 1926, and he took the surname of his mother's new husband, Hyman Olitsky. He changed the spelling of his name later in life after it was misprinted in a clerical error.

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Jules Olitski Biography Continues

Important Art 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)
Artwork Images

Cleopatra Flesh (1962)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Synthetic polymer paint on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of G. David Thompson

Tin Lizzie Green (1964)
Artwork Images

Tin Lizzie Green (1964)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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."

Alkyd and oil/wax crayon on canvas - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Patutsky in Paradise (1966)
Artwork Images

Patutsky in Paradise (1966)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Acrylic on canvas - Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Jules Olitski
Interactive chart with Jules Olitski's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Hans HofmannHans Hofmann
Joan MirĂ³Joan MirĂ³
Helen FrankenthalerHelen Frankenthaler
Clyfford StillClyfford Still
Ossip ZadkineOssip Zadkine

Personal Contacts

Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Hilton KramerHilton Kramer
Kenneth NolandKenneth Noland
Ellsworth KellyEllsworth Kelly
Morris LouisMorris Louis


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

Influences on Artist
Jules Olitski
Jules Olitski
Years Worked: late 1940s - 2007
Influenced by Artist


Frank StellaFrank Stella
Al HeldAl Held

Personal Contacts

Michael FriedMichael Fried
Rosalind KraussRosalind Krauss


Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting
Post-Painterly AbstractionPost-Painterly Abstraction
Lyrical AbstractionLyrical Abstraction

Useful Resources on Jules Olitski





The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews

By Michael Fried

written by artist

Art in Theory, 1900-2000: an Anthology of Changing Ideas

By Charles Harrison and Paul J. Wood

More Interesting Books about Jules Olitski
Jules Olitski: "Expect Nothing, Do Your Work, Celebrate Recomended resource

April 8, 2014

Superb Irrelevance: Experiencing Jules Olitski's Late Works

By Torey Akers
November 19, 2012

Circle in the Square: Jules Olitski at FreedmanArt

By Barbara A. MacAdam
August 15, 2011

Jules Olitski, 84, American Abstract Painter

By Benjamin Genocchio
The New York Times
February 5, 2007

More Interesting Articles about Jules Olitski
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