American, 1912 - 1963
William Baziotes was born on June 11, 1912, in Pittsburgh, to parents of Greek origin. Eventually, he came under the influence of European Surrealists who were expatriates in New York City. His signature work became biomorphic and amoebic forms placed against/in Cubist grids. Although his painting appears to have some overall organization, he said that he did not begin his paintings with a plan but that he painted intuitively saying "the act of doing it becomes the experience." In 1931, Baziotes saw the Henri Matisse exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and in 1933 he moved to that city to study painting. From 1933 to 1936, Baziotes attended the National Academy of Design. In the 1940s, Baziotes gained greater visibility. Marcel Duchamp included Baziotes’ work in his 1942 First Papers of Surrealism exhibition. Baziotes’ artwork was rooted in his own take on surrealism: a lyrical, biomorphic abstraction less interested in accessing the unconscious, but more concerned with adopting a mysterious and haunted quality. This was achieved through layers of luminous color and eerily foreboding forms. After Baziotes was featured by Duchamp, his work appeared in two group shows at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery. In 1944, Guggenheim mounted Baziotes’s first solo exhibition, putting him in the company of Motherwell, Pollock, David Hare, and Clyfford Still, all of whom had their inaugural one-man shows at Art of This Century. In his review of the exhibition, Clement Greenberg praised Baziotes as being “among the six or seven best painters we possess." He was one of the “Irascibles” made famous in Nina Leen’s 1951 Life photograph, and in 1948, together with Motherwell, Hare, and Mark Rothko, he co-founded the Subjects of the Artist School, an artists group that provided a forum to discuss the issues at stake in contemporary painting.
In the later part of his brief life, Baziotes taught at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, New York University, the Museum of Modern Art, People’s Art Center, and Hunter College. In 1961, Sidney Janis included Baziotes in the Ten American Painters exhibition at his gallery. Two years later, Baziotes died in New York on June 6, 1963. He has been the subject of several posthumous solo exhibitions including one at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York (1965) and most recently at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (2004-2005).