Progression of Art
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
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 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
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
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 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
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
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