Red, White & Black, 1938
Oil on masonite
6 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches
Signed lower right
Esphyr Slobodkina is perhaps best known as a pioneering member of the American Abstract Artists, yet she also had a successful and varied career in the arts, working in illustration, architecture, interior design, textiles, millinery, and couture dressmaking. Born in Siberia, Slobodkina’s father managed an oil enterprise and the family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle that included a liberal education for the children, rich cultural activities, and exposure to the arts.
After she graduated in 1927, Slobodkina left for New York and enrolled at the National Academy of Design. Here she met fellow student Ilya Bolotowsky, who first acted as her mentor before the two were married from 1933-1938.
Slobodkina began a key period in her career in the mid-1930s; she joined the Artists’ Union, and participated in the Work’s Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project where she completed sketches for murals that recall her influence of Joan Miró. She was instrumental in forming the American Abstract Artists group in 1936, which helped to advance the development of abstraction in the U.S. and eventually pave the way for Abstract Expressionism in the post-war years.
The present work, Red, White & Black was completed during this prolific moment in Slobodkina’s career, which marked the beginning of her mature abstract style. The small composition masterfully demonstrates Slobodkina’s playful use of floating lines and interlocked biomorphic and geometric shapes. The flat areas of color recall her mural sketches done the same year, which are her first works executed in oil on masonite.