"What I would like in my painting is simply a spray of color that hangs like a cloud, but does not lose its shape."
- Jules Olitski
Born Jevel Demikovsky in 1922 in Snovsk, Soviet Russia, Jules Olitski emigrated to the United States, settling in Brooklyn, New York, in 1926. Amidst a tumultuous childhood, Olitski developed an interest in art, and on graduating from high school was awarded a scholarship to the Pratt Institute. Olitski’s formal training continued in 1940 when he enrolled at the National Academy of Design in New York, but because of the ongoing war, he was drafted into the US Army in 1942 and served until 1945. Like many fellow veterans, Olitski benefited from the G.I. Bill, and after his discharge he visited Paris, France, to study first with sculptor Ossip Zadkine, then at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.
During his time in Paris, Olitski began to question his extensive formal training via avant-garde experiments that he devised for that purpose. In the first of these, he practiced drawing while blindfolded, hoping to bring the purely intuitive to the forefront of his work. Also, while in Paris, Olitski met fellow American artist Sidney Geist, and, along with Al Held and Lawrence Calcagno, they opened Galerie Huit on the Left Bank. Olitski had his first solo show there in 1951.
On returning to New York, Olitski attended New York University, where he completed his BA and MA in art education in 1952 and 1954 respectively. After graduation, he accepted a teaching position at the University of New York, New Paltz, the first of many he would hold. In tandem with his teaching, Olitski continued his artistic experiments in distinct series that addressed both shape and color, eventually bringing to his work a uniquely atmospheric quality. His work has been featured in major exhibitions including the XXXIII InternationalBiennial Exhibition of Art, United States Pavilion, Venice; the 1973 Whitney Biennial Exhibition; and two traveling shows Olitski, organized by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1973 and Revelations: Major Paintings by Jules Olitski organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, in 2011.
He was awarded numerous prizes—including one for his work included in the 1961 Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture at the Carnegie Institute—and honors during his career and right up until his death in 2007. Today Olitski’s work can be found in many prestigious collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Tate Gallery, London; the Uffizi Gallery, Florence; and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.