William Baziotes

American painter (1912-1963)

William Baziotes (June 11, 1912June 6, 1963) was an American painter influenced by Surrealism and was a contributor to Abstract Expressionism. He participated in discussions and exhibitions of the New York School. In the early 1940's Baziotes was close friends of Jackson Pollock, Roberto Matta and Robert Motherwell; with Pollock he painted some paintings together.

Quotes of William Baziotes

chronologically arranged, after the date of Baziotes's quotes


  • 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.. .I work on many canvasses at once. In the morning I line them up against the wall of my studio. Some speak, some do not. They are my mirrors. They tell me what I am like at that moment.
    • I Cannot Evolve Any Concrete Theory, William Baziotes, in Possibilities, Vol. I, no. 1, New York, winter 1947-48, p. 2
  • Each painting has its own way of evolving. One may start with a few color areas on the canvas; another with a myriad of lines, another with a profusion of colors.. .Once I sense the suggestion I begin to paint intuitively. The suggestion then becomes a phantom that must be caught and made real. As I work, or when the painting is finished, the subject reveals itself.
    • I Cannot Evolve Any Concrete Theory, William Baziotes, in Possibilities, Vol. I, no. 1, New York, winter 1947-48, p. 2
    • William Baziotes is referring in this quote to Surrealist automatism originally a surrealist art concept
  • To be inspired. That is the thing.
    to be possessed; to be bewitched.
    To be obsessed. That is the thing.
    To be inspired.
    • a poetry line on his painting, in: 'Tiger's Eye', Baziotes, Vol. I, no. 5, Westport, Connecticut, October 1948, p. 35
  • Let the poet dream his dreams. Yet, the poet must look at the world; must enter into other men's lives; must look at the earth and the sky, must examine the dust in the street; must walk through the world and his mirror.
    • The Artist and His Mirror, W. Baziotes, in Right Angle Vol. III, no. 2, Washington DC, June 1949


  • I think when a man first discovers that two and two is four, there is 'beauty' in that; and we can see why. But if people stand and look at the moon and one says 'I think it's just beautiful tonight' and the other says 'The moon makes me feel awful' we are both 'clear'. A geometric shape – we know why we like it; and an unreasonable shape; it has a certain mystery that we recognize as real; but it is difficult to put these things in an objective way.
    • as cited in Abstract Expressionism Creators and Critics, ed. Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990, p. 221: Remark in the 'Artists' Session' at Studio 35, 1950.
  • The eye seems to be responding to something living.
    • Modern Artists in America, Robert Motherwell et al. eds., First series, New York 1952, p. 100
  • As for the subject matter in my painting...it is very often an incidental thing in the background, elusive and unclear, that really stirred me.
    • Fifteen Americans, Exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, 1952 p. 12
  • Contact with other artists has always been of great importance to me. When the artists I know best used to meet.. ..the talk was mostly of ideas in painting. There was an unconscious collaboration between artists. Whether you agreed or disagreed was of no consequence. It was exciting and you were compelled to paint over your head... .If your painting was criticized adversely, you either imitated someone to give it importance, or you simply suffered and painted harder to make your feelings on canvas convincing.. .What does happen when artists meet is that we are able to see more clearly the unfolding of character as time goes on.
    • Quote from Baziotes' text for the symposium 'The Creative process', Art Digest Vol. 28, no 8, 15; January 1954, p. 33
    • Baziotes is referring here to the many art-debates and exchanges between the New York Abstract Expressionist artists
  • There is always an unconscious collaboration among artists.. ..the artist who imagine himself a Robinson Crusoe is either a primitive or a fool.
    • from Baziote's text for a symposium in 1954; as quoted in William Baziotes – paintings and drawings, ed. Michael Preble, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 2004, p. 18
  • Its decadence, satiety, and languor [of Roman civilization] interested me. And I kept looking and returning to their wall paintings with their veiled melancholy and their elegant plasticity. I admired the way they used their geology in their art — the sense of mineral, clay. rock, marble, and stone.
    • from his letter to Alfred H. Barr, Jr. 6 November, 1955; as cited in the text of 'The Baziotes Memorial Exhibition' and its accompanying catalogue by Lawrence Alloway; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1965, p. 11
  • The large gray spiked form rising from the bottom of the picture is to me the symbol of death and ruin. And finally the black ovoid form is the symbol of fire, lava and destruction.
    • in a letter to Alfred H. Barr, Jr. 6 November, 1955; as quoted in Abstract Expressionism, Barbara Hess, Taschen, Köln, 2006, p. 34
    • Baziotes' quote is referring to his painting 'Pompeii', Baziotes painted in 1955
  • Well, I looked at Picasso [at the Picasso exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, in 1939] until I could smell his armpits and the cigarette smoke on his breast. Finally, in front of one picture – a bone figure on a beach – I got it. I saw that the figure was not his real subject. The plasticity wasn't either – although the plasticity was great. No. Picasso had uncovered a feverishness in himself and is painting it – a feverishness of death and beauty.
    • Modern Art U.S.A., R. Blesh, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1956, pp. 268-69
  • My whole intention in painting is to make a thing poetical; but not poetical in a literary sense. I want something that evokes mood, a background, a stage set for certain characters that are playing certain parts. When I paint I do not consider myself an abstractionist in the sense that I'm trying to create beautiful forms that fit together like a puzzle. The things in my painting are intended to strike something that is an emotional involvement – that has to do with the human personality and all the mysteries of life, not simply colors or abstract balances. To me, it's all reality.
    • Quote from An interview with William Baziotes, eds. P. Franks and M. White, Perspective no. 2, Hunter College New York (1956-57), pp. 27, 29-30
  • The emphasis on flora, fauna, and beings makes the exhibit a most intriguing and artistic one for it brings forth those strange memories and psychic feelings that mystify and fascinate all of us. [his remark in 1957]
  • In the beginning I drew and painted from nature in order to know her. Then later, only to fall under her spell. And today, to let her mirror my thoughts and feelings.
    • from the catalog of the traveling exhibition 'Nature in Abstraction', Whitney Museum of modern Art, 1958, p. 61

Artists' Session at Studio 35, (1950)

Quotes from: Artists' Session at Studio 35, 1950, as quoted in Abstract Expressionism, Creators and Critics, ed. Clifford Ross, Abrams Publishers New York 1990
  • I consider my painting finished when my eyes goes to a particular spot on the canvas. But if I put the picture away about thirty feet on the wall and the movements keep returning to me and the eye seems to be responding to something living, then it is finished.
    • p. 213
  • We are getting mixed up with the French tradition. In talking about the necessity to 'finish' a thing, we then said American painters 'finish' a thing that looks 'unfinished', and the French, they 'finish' it. I have seen Henri Matisse's that were more 'unfinished' and yet more 'finished' than any American painters. Matisse was obviously in a terrific emotion at the time and he was more 'unfinished' than 'finished'.
    • p. 216
  • Whereas certain people start with a recollection or an experience and paint that experience, to some of us the act of doing is the experience; so that we are not quite clear why we are engaged on a particular work. And because we are more interested in plastic matters than we are in matters of words, once can begin a painting and carry it through and stop it and do nothing about the title at all. All pictures are full of association.
    • p. 217
  • I think the reason we [Baziotes himself and Richard Lippold ] begin in a different way, is that this particular time has gotten to a point where the artist feels like a gambler. He does something on the canvas and takes a chance in the hope that something important will be revealed.
    • p. 219

Posthumous quotes


Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, (1983)

Quotes from: Abstract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts 1983
  • One hundred artists introduce us to one hundred worlds.
    • p. 136 : in Artists Club, January 8, 1952
  • I can not evolve any concrete theory about painting. What happens on the canvas is unpredictable and surprising to me.
    • p. 135 : original source: 'Willem de Kooning', in 'Moma Bulletin' pp. 6,7
  • One can begin a picture and carry it through and stop it and do nothing about the title at all.
    • p. 147

Quotes about William Baziotes

  • Baziotes is unique in that the spatial organization of the whole painting implies a dense medium, like water, as well as evoking reminiscences of particular organisms. This kind of space becomes scenically expansive in 1952. developing after paintings of 1950 in which marine life is one term in an ambiguous image. Examples of this phase are 'Dying Bird' and 'Flight', in which bird forms are generalized to the point at which they imply a seal or a slug...Baziotes' color is as bland and shifting as light in topaz or opal, converting the motion of the sea to a Medusan calm. His art paradoxically evokes both the amniotic waters and the impassivity of the mineral world.
    • Quote of Lawrence Alloway, in his text of 'The Baziotes Memorial Exhibition' and accompanying catalogue; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1965, p. 11
  • In 1942-43 Motherwell and Baziotes felt an absorbing interest in automatism, propagandized by Matta, as a source of new forms and new truths in art. Baziotes' contacts with Surrealism at this time are essential to his subsequent development; in 1942 he exhibited in Andre Breton's 'First Papers of Surrealism' [show] at the Whitelaw Reid Mansion, and in 1944 he [Baziotes] held his first one man exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's 'Art of This Century.' which was a junction of expatriate European Surrealists and younger American artists [ [[Robert Motherwell and Pollock showed there too].
    • Lawrence Alloway, in his text of 'The Baziotes Memorial Exhibition' and accompanying catalogue; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1965, p. 12
  • I saw a Dubuffet show at Pierre Matisse's art gallery in the late forties and came back with a new vocabulary. Also when Baziotes won the Carnegie (1948) there was a reproduction in 'The Times'. I remember bringing it to class. It was source of bewilderment, delineated configurations that seemed to come out of Cubism. It was something new. Those were the tastes of a whole dimension that was to come..
    • Quote of Helen Frankenthaler, in an 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry Geldzahler; Artforum' 4. no. 2, October 1965, p. 36
  • Recently I was at the home of Thomas Hess and he had a painting hanging there and I said to my wife: 'Is that one of my paintings?'. And she said: 'Well, it looks like one of yours [Adolph Gottlieb's] from around 1942'. But then we realized that it wasn't one of my but one of Baziote's paintings. At that time, 1942, the differences in our paintings may have seemed very great, but now [1960] the difference is not so great apparently.. .However, at no point was there ever any sort of a doctrine or a programma or anything that would make a school. I think it was simply a situation in which all of the painters were at that time; they were trying to break away from certain things.
    • Quote of Adolph Gottlieb (March 1960), in an interview with David Sylvester, edited for broadcasting by the BBC first published in 'Living Arts', June 1963; as cited in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, pp. 27-28
  • I hung Baziote's [painting] show with him at Peggy's in 1944. After it was up and we had stood in silence looking at it for a while, I noticed he had turned white. Suddenly he [Baziotes] looked at me and said: 'You're the one I trust; if you tell me the show is no good, I'll take it right down and cancel it.'. You see, at the opposite side of the coin of the abstract expressionist's ambition and of out not giving a damn, was also not knowing whether our pictures were even pictures, let alone whether they were any good..
    • Quote of Robert Motherwell; as cited in William Baziotes – paintings and drawings, curated by Michael Preble, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 2004, p. 181
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