New York

William Baziotes

Marlborough | Midtown

1946–1962 is loose usage to identify William Baziotes’ “late works.” This exhibition in fact presents an expert selection of Baziotes’ mature work which, when it came into its own, shortly before the end of the second World War, remained remarkably constant until his death. Because of his reliance on a certain kind of figuration, Baziotes’ work at the end of his life became alien to the nature of late-40s field-surfacing, the character of which admittedly had been affected by his own contributions. Essentially sweeter than either Rothko or Still, whose positions Baziotes’ work seems to bridge, Baziotes also brings to mind the prestige Loren Maclver once enjoyed as it also alludes to the eminence of Olitski’s color painting of the later ’60s. Baziotes’ biomorphic vocabulary is clearly derived from Miró as his two-dimensional design is an adaptation of Arp. His delicacy of touch and his persuasively nuanced color nonetheless contributed an original inflection to the group of the first masters of Abstract Expressionism. (In this connection it is perhaps interesting to recall that Clement Greenberg’s book on Miró appeared in 1948.)

Baziotes died in 1963, some six months after his rapidly deteriorating health was diagnosed as terminal lung cancer. But it would be foolish to draw close interconnections between Baziotes’ dancing spectral shapes as harbingers of death and Rothko’s late and spare gray fields as directly allusive of the imminence of his suicide.

The range of Baziotes’ shapes, perhaps threatening at times but equally suggestive of the forces of primitive life—serpents and undersea invertebrates—while redolent of the gloomy monsters of Clyfford Still of 1944–45 offer instances of a rare enthusiasm in the period for the then widely unknown pastels and later paintings of Redon. Much of Baziotes’ vocabulary in both shape and color may be viewed as an evolution from the subaqueous and monster themes found in Redon’s fusains, lithographs and paintings. More speculative is my conviction that Baziotes was also far more widely aware of Intimist Vuillard than was common at that time. While this abundance of influence might possibly close Baziotes to first rank, this nevertheless in no way disallows him our enormous esteem as an exquisitely sensitive artist in the second rank of Abstract Expressionism.

Robert Pincus-Witten