William Baziotes

William Baziotes

Greek / American
1912 - 1963


William Baziotes was born in Pittsburgh in 1912. In the early 1940s, Baziotes had one of the most meteoric rises to prominence of any Greek American artist; however, he had been painting for a decade before this seemingly overnight success. After his family moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, he took a job in a stained-glass factory where he met craftsmen who stimulated his interest in art. In 1933, he moved to New York to attend Leon Kroll's painting classes at the National Academy of Design.

As the Depression deepened, Baziotes started teaching for the W.PA. Federal Art and Easel Painting Project and began moving in avant-garde circles, associating with European artists and intellectuals who had fled to the United States. Influenced by the French Surrealists and by current developments in abstraction, his work became more biomorphic and was included in-group shows alongside works by Picasso, Miro, and Arp.

Baziotes had his first solo exhibition in 1944 at Peggy Guggenheim's prestigious gallery, Art of This Century. In 1947 his painting Cyclops won First Purchase Prize in the exhibition Abstract & Surrealist Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, sending art factions in the city into a furor. That same year, the Museum of Modern Art bought Baziotes's Dwarf and Theodoros Stamos's Sounds in the Rock, and Life Magazine's spread on the two “young American extremists” created a succes de scandale.

In 1948, Baziotes, fellow painters Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko, and sculptor David Hare founded the Subjects of the Artists School at 35 East Eighth Street. This evolved into the famous Eighth Street Club, which met to discuss current issues in art, and was still functioning to some degree in the 1970s.

Baziotes, describing the sources that have inspired him, once wrote, “I kept … returning to the [ancient Roman] wall paintings with their veiled melancholy and elegant plasticity.” He died in 1963.

I cannot evolve any concrete theory about painting. What happens on the canvas is unpredictable and surprising to me… 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.

William Baziotes’ biography is sourced from the catalogue of the exhibition Modern odysseys: Greek American artists of the 20th century (Selz, Peter, and William R. Valerio. 1999. Queens, N.Y.: Queens Museum of Art.)