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Jules Olitski

OLITSKI, JULES (1922– ), U.S. painter, sculptor, and printmaker. Born Jules Demikovsky in Russia, Olitski immigrated to the United States in 1923 and grew up in New York. He studied painting and drawing at the National Academy of Design (1940–42) and sculpture at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design (1940–42) in New York. He served in the Army during World War II (1942–45), before which he became an American citizen and adopted his stepfather's surname. In 1947 Olitski studied sculpture at the Educational Alliance with Chaim *Gross. Under the GI Bill, Olitski received additional art instruction at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére (1949–50) and with the sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1949) in Paris. In an effort to transcend his academic training, Olitski made a series of vigorously rendered paintings while blindfolded. He had his first solo exhibition in Paris (1951), where he showed partially abstract, brightly colored paintings. Upon his permanent return to the United States he received a B.S. (1952) and an M.A. (1954) in art education from New York University. Responding to his vibrantly hued Parisian works, during this transition period Olitski made monochrome abstractions and experimented with heavily impastoed imagery in the late 1950s.

Throughout Olitski's career he explored varied modes of color field painting. Adopting a technique made popular by Helen *Frankenthaler and Morris *Louis, in 1960 Olitski started to stain large canvases with hard-edge, oblong shapes; Born in Snovsk (1963, Art Institute of Chicago) is one of several paintings in the Core series. In 1964 Olitski applied paint to canvases with spray cans and later with a spray gun. Color mists hover and subtle hues of pink dissolve into each other in Ishtar Melted (1965, Princeton University Art Museum). During the 1970s, Olitski reacted against the spray technique and composed abstractions with tactile, dense, often dull-colored paint. Iridescent paintings followed, in which he applied gobs of paint with mittened hands. Temptation Temple (1992, collection unknown) exemplifies this period with the energetic texture and sense of relief created by the thick metallic brown color interwoven with highlights of green, purple, and blue.

Olitski began making prints in 1954. His forays into printmaking yielded a wide range of imagery from representational self-portraits to abstractions. Colored silkscreens from the early 1970s are pure abstractions of color akin to his paintings of the period. In 1968 Olitski designed his first sculptures – aluminum abstractions colored with a spray gun. His sculptures are typically produced in series, such as the Ring series (1970–73), a group of works comprised of concentric circles made of thin sheet steel. Olitski's art has been publicly exhibited on numerous occasions. Notably, Olitski represented the United States at the 1966 Venice Bienniale; he was the first living American artist to have a one-person show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1969); and in 1973 he enjoyed a retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.


K. Moffett, Jules Olitski (1981); K. Wilkin and S. Long, The Prints of Jules Olitski: A Catalogue Raisonné, 19541989 (1989); B. Rose, Jules Olitski: Recent Paintings (1993).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.