Framed: 41 x 37 inches
Born in Siberia in the wake of the Russian Revolution, Esphyr Slobodkina's family settled in Harbin, Manchuria. In 1928, Slobodkina immigrated to New York City and enrolled at the National Academy of Design the following year. In 1931, through a peer, she became acquainted with Ilya Bolotowsky. The two shared an interest in the theoretical aspects of modern art-form, color, and composition. Slobodkina also formed relationships with Gertrude Greene, Byron Browne, and Giorgio Cavallon, and became immersed in city's avant-garde scene. In the early 1930s, Slobodkina and Bolotowsky were invited to the Yaddo artist colony in Saratoga Springs, and there the former began experimenting with abstraction. The two married in 1933, and Slobodkina produced her first Cubist work in 1934.
In 1936, Slobodkina separated from Bolotowsky. Around this time, her family moved to New York city; alongside her mother, Slobodkina opened a dress shop and served as a textile designer and manufacturer. She joined the Works Progress Administration and became active in the Artists' Union, for which she began to design paper collage posters and in the process further develop her brand of abstraction. By 1936, she was a fully-fledged abstractionist, her works reflecting her experience in collage by way of their flat, layered compositional arrangements. In addition to her paintings, Slobodkina worked on Surrealist-inspired sculptures composed of wood, wire, and found objects. In 1937 she became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists, and would later become president.
That same year, Slobodkina met famous children's book author Margaret Wise Brown and was inspired to try her hand at illustration. She illustrated Brown's The Little Fireman as well as her own Caps for Sale (1938), which went on to become a beloved piece of children's literature and was even adapted into a musical. Throughout the '40s and '50s, Slobodkina participated in a series of notable exhibitions, including "Eight by Eight: Abstract Painting since 1940" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1945) and the Whitney Museum of American Art annuals (through the 1950s).
Japanese Abstraction plays on an orientalist theme Slobodkina revisited in her work throughout the '50s and '60s. Its calligraphic forms mimic the Asian-inspired arrangement of her c. 1950-53 piece of the same title (below inset). An exhibition including the piece noted in its catalogue:
"Japanese Abstraction, a long, oval painting in browns, duns and mauves, takes place within clearly delineated architectural space. A corner is evident in the lower right of the canvas; simple stick shapes, reminiscent of streamlined Japanese characters, white shapes that look like origami birds with orange crests, and larger planes all float in deep space, at odds with one another but strikingly harmonious."
—Esphyr Slobodkina: An Introspective," Art & Culture Center of Hollywood, February 16-March 18, 1984
Private Collection, Prague