Jules Olitski

(Gomel, Russia, 1922 - 2007)

American, born Russia

Born Jevel Demikovsky, Jules Olitski emigrated from Russia to Brooklyn, New York in 1923 after his father was executed by the Bolshevik government. Between 1939 and 1942, Olitski attended the National Academy of Design and the Beaux Arts Institute in New York City until he was drafted into the U.S. Army. After he was discharged in 1949, Olitski moved to Paris, where he studied art at the Ossip Zadkine School and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. A year later he enrolled at New York University, from which he graduated with a B.A. in 1952 and an M.A. in 1954. From 1954 to 1963, Olitski worked as an art professor, curator and art instructor at a number of universities in New York, including the State University of New York at New Paltz, New York University and Long Island University.

Olitski’s first solo show in the United States was at Iolas Gallery in New York City in 1958. Among those in attendance was influential critic Clement Greenberg, who became a friend and advocate. Through Greenberg, Olitski met other color field painters including Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland and by 1960 had begun experimenting with stain techniques. In 1965, Olitski began creating “spray paintings” using spray-guns powered by an electric air-compressor, allowing him to spray paint directly onto the canvas. As he explained in 1966, each painting is “a structure born of the flow of color feeling. Color in color is felt at any and every place of the pictorial organization.” Olitski was one of four artists representing the U.S. in the 1966 Venice Biennale and in 1969 he became the third living artist to have a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In the decades that followed, Olitski shifted toward heavily textured paintings as well as painted metal sculpture.

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