Jay Wolff's formal art training began with night school at the
Chicago Art Institute in 1928 and ended with a few months in
the sculpture atelier of the French academician Henri Bouchard
at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1930.
in Paris, Wolff worked independently: "My masters were
the stone cutters of archaic Greece. The bronze sculptures of
Charles Despiau seemed to me the only contemporary works that
could approach the purity and grandeur of the stone figures
of the Sixth Century B.C.," he recalled. "Much of
my time, when not working, was spent in the far conrner of the
basement of the Louvre surrounded by ancient Greece."
in 1929 and 1930 was alive with the new art of the School of
Paris, and Wolff saw paintings by Miro, Matisse, Picasso, and
Braque and the sculpture of Brancusi, Zadkine, Gonzales, Archipenko.
"They all held an inescapable fascination for young and
uncommitted eyes," he wrote years later.
returned to Chicago in 1932, where he continued to work in sculpture.
"I worked always from life, mostly heads; and though a
certain likeness always resulted my first concern was with the
sculpture as an object, as a fully realized volume of planes
intersecting planes, of an infinite diversity of contours, of
surfaces patiently growing to the fullness of a living essence.
spent hours drawing. "My studio in Chicago was a seventh-floor
loft in an old building on Wacker Drive at Wabash Avenue. My
windows faced west, and looked down on the busy Chicago River.
The river stretched out before me, its bridges one after the
other rising and descending with the coming and going of boats
and ships of all kinds, large and small. The tall buildings
of the Loop towered over me to the south while across the river
to the north and west there was the contrast of dingy old warehouses
1929 and 1931 I had done a series of wash drawings from my window
high up in Passy overlooking Paris and it was in these that
I discovered how the aggressive tangibility of spaces could
dissolve the concrete object world."
sculpture received prizes in juried shows at the Chicago Art
Institute in 1933 and 1934, and in a one-man exhibition in 1935.
But the artist was already turning from sculpture toward painting,
what he called, "exciting but, in a sense, terrifying excursions
into this new and strange realm of subjectively expressive abstraction."
1936 on Wolff expressed himself in abstract painting: "Spaces
of magic light and vivid color, emptied of fixed points of reference,
of self-enclosed objects and locally isolated things, color
spaces containing only the heavy black lines of brush strokes
that defined their limits; this was what emerged....with a kind
of furious aimlessness. I was not sure what it was that was
happening, but I knew that what ever it was it was vividly alive.
This was the here and now of my life. I had taken the long,
final step out of the shelter of art history and I found that
I was quite alone."
became a member of Abstract American Artists in 1937 and exhibited
with the group.
joined with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes in 1938 when
they established the Chicago Institute of Design, the American
revival of the German Bauhaus school. After World War II Wolff
was professor of Art at Brooklyn College, where as department
chairman his faculty included Ad Reinhardt, Burgoyne Diller,
Stanley Hayter, Carl Holty and Mark Rothko. Wolff's book Essays
on Art and Learning, was published in 1971.
work is represented in collections including: Art Institute
of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum of Art, estate of Alexander Calder,
estate of Marcel Breuer, Guggenheim Museum of Art, Rhode Island
School of Design Museum, Tate Gallery in London, and the Wadsworth
estate of Robert Wolff is represented by the Canfield Gallery,
Santa Fe, New Mexico.