Jay Bolotin, whose woodcuts and films evoked the weird, 1949–2024

Jay Bolotin, 1976. Courtesy Solway Gallery, Cincinnati

Jay Bolotin, a polymathic American artist and musician whose work ranged from woodcuts and sculptural reliefs to opera, films, set design and a series of low-fi alt-country albums, has died.

Born on a farm in rural Kentucky, Bolotin immersed himself in music and storytelling and made sculptures from fallen trees, going on to study at the Rhode Island School of Design. While recording music in Nashville he shifted focus to drawing, his compositions indebted to a weird and folkloric sensibility inspired by German expressionism, Brueghel and medieval religious imagery. From these he moved to the woodcuts which he became best known for, and which are included in the collection of MoMA, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego and Seattle Art Museum.

In 2008 he produced the first part of two-part Jackleg Testament videowork, subtitled Jack & Eve, in which he animated original woodcuts to retell the biblical story as a darkly strange tale in which Eve is lured from the Garden of Eden by a Jack-in-the-Box. Presiding over the proceedings is Nobodaddy, a mischievous, unforgiving creator, named after William Blake’s term for God within the Old Testament. First shown at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, the work went on to tour the US, and then internationally to the John Hansard Gallery in Southampton and the Pokoleniy Theater in St. Petersburg.

The subsequent episode, which will be the centrepiece to a solo show opening at the University of Kentucky Art Museum in January 2025, introduced new characters including Enoch, the son of the only Jewish coal miner in Kentucky; Mr. Sousaphone Man (a former Vaudeville actor turned Wilderness Guide); the Woman Who Paints Portraits of Dead Children; and a talking rat.

In 2018, the Delmore Recording Society released Jay Bolotin’s No One Seems To Notice That It’s Raining, a compilation of Bolotin’s previously unreleased music from the 1970s.

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