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Henry Botkin and Abstract Expressionism

Henry Botkin has been called “Boston’s most important Abstract Expressionist.” He was born in Boston on April 5th, 1896, and after his early training at the Massachusetts School of Art, he moved to New York City. Botkin took classes in drawing and illustration at the Art Students League and began his artistic career as an illustrator for Harper’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and Century magazines. He frequently returned to his native Boston to visit family and friends, and also became identified with New York, Paris, Los Angeles and Charleston, S.C. In 1926 he went to Paris, which remained his base for seven years. Botkin was supported in his French career by his cousin, George Gershwin, who he encouraged to take up painting.

He also advised and purchased Paris Post-Impressionist paintings for both Gershwins and their circle of friends. As the New York Times reported: “In 1934, the cousins went together to Folly Island, S.C., where Mr.

Gershwin composed ''Porgy and Bess'' and Mr. Botkin painted visual counterparts for the opera. Mr.

Botkin's paintings were exhibited after the opera was performed; one was bought by the Metropolitan Museum.” Martha Severens wrote in The Charleston Renaissance, "The interaction between the two cousins was a dynamic one, and Botkin created paintings that reflect Gershwin's music. Correspondences are found in subject and in style. Both had a genuine interest in African-American culture that preceded their visit to Folly Beach and the evolution of Porgy and Bess. . .

.They talked art together and spent years of their lives together." By late 1930s, Henry Botkin began to develop a new approach to his painting. He moved away from the earlier influence of the School of Paris Modernists and turned to abstraction. He became involved with manipulating spatial relationships with form, color, and texture; he assembled, juxtaposed and balanced lyrical line with vibrant color masses, jagged edges, and rough construction leading him into collage

by the early 1950s. This media dominated his work from the 1960s until his death in 1983. He is noted as saying: “Working in collage has expanded my development as an artist; it has also liberated my thinking and dramatized my growth.

(For) art is a collision of new truths and awakened sensibilities; it is a serious understanding of the untried and unexpected.” Botkin took an active role in bringing abstract art into greater public awareness and served as president of four major art organizations including: The Artist’s Equity Association, The American Abstract Artists, Group 256 in Provincetown, and the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors. His work can be found in the permanent collections of over 40 museums nationwide including The Whitney Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brookyn Museum of Art, and the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University. The present exhibition focuses on Botkin’s development of abstract painting and collage from the late 1940s through the 1960s.