In 1931, Esphyr Slobodkina met Ilya Bolotowsky, a fellow student at the National Academy of Design. This relationship marked a turning point in her personal and professional career.
Bolotowksy, who agreed with Slobodkina’s negative assessment of the Academy, traveled to Europe to study the work of the old masters and the European modernists. Upon returning to the United States, Bolotowsky shared his new-found knowledge with Slobodkina, who eagerly absorbed these ideas. She wrote, “Here, at last, was a concrete chance to really learn something about th technique, the meaning, the history of painting.” Bolotwosky became her most important mentor, and for a brief time, her husband (the two married in 1933 but separated in 1936).
Slobodkina’s artistic stye in this decade evolves from explorations in post-Impressionism and Cubism to pure abstraction. In 1936, Slobodkina and Bolotowsky were among the founders of the influential American Abstract Artists – a group of New York City-based artists dedicated to the exhibition and promotion of abstract art.