William Baziotes

Joseph Helman

At the start of his career, around 1932-33, William Baziotes made a drawing that, in light of the gentle, haunting, lyrical works for which he later became known, one would never associate with him: a rather expressionistic flagellation scene. A mean old woman is whipping a pretty young girl, who seems to be enjoying it. The two figures are locked together in a single tight curve like a boomerang. What’s most striking about the image, as this survey of works on paper from 1930-62 makes clear, is that, the form is the ancestor of all those delicious, meandering curves and bends we see throughout Baziotes’s oeuvre, just as many of his surreally abstract shapes are, implicitly, figures, animal as well as human. Indeed, a late watercolor here shows a pale orange man and an amorphous blue woman, two figures at odds with each other but also somehow inseparable, as in the flagellation.

The softening

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