William Baziotes

William Baziotes

Greek / American
1912 - 1963


William Baziotes was born to Greek parents in 1912 in Pittsburgh and grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania. The main interest of his youth was boxing but, in 1931, and while working in the mornings in a glass shop, he enrolled in afternoon drawing lessons. This is where he met poet Byron Vazakas, who was of Greek descent and who introduced him to the poetry of French Sympolists. In 1933, he moved to New York and began painting classes at the National Academy of Design. In 1936, he participated for the first time in a group exhibition at the Municipal Art Gallery in New York while working as an art teacher at the Queens Museum of Art under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs. Baziotes continued to work on public works at the Works Progress Administration until 1941. In 1940, he met Roberto Matta and Robert Motherwell. During this period, he shifted away from the cubistic representation of recognizable figures and focused on biomorphic abstraction with surrealistic and expressionist elements. In 1942, André Masson and Marcel Duchamp invited him to participate in the significant exhibition First Papers of Surrealism at the Whitelaw Reid Mansion in New York. In 1944, he held his first solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery. His next solo exhibition took place in 1946 at Samuel Kootz’s gallery – Samuel Kootz was an art dealer associated with the abstract expressionism movement. In 1948, Baziotes, along with Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman and David Hare, founded the Subjects of the Artist School in New York, an organization that during its short time of existence (until 1949) presented lectures by artists such as John Cage, Ad Reinhardt, Adolph Gottlieb, Willem de Kooning et al. Baziotes also taught at other New York schools, such as at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the New York University during the period 1949-1952 and the Hunter College during the period 1952-1962. In 1950, he was among the 18 artists who protested against the jury of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The informal group included, inter alia, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Theodoros Stamos, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still and Willem de Kooning and went down in history as The Irascible Eighteen. In 1952, at the group exhibition 15 Americans of the Museum of Modern Art, Baziotes wrote in the catalog: “Today it's possible to paint one canvas with the calmness of an ancient Greek, and the next with the anxiety of a Van Gogh. Either of these emotions, and any in between, is valid to me.”  His works can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MoMA, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He died at the age of 51 from lung cancer in New York in 1963.