Growing up during the Depression and maturing throughout the interwar period and rise of Hitler, the American painter and printmaker Adolph Gottlieb was committed to expressing authentic feeling in the face of the traumas of the world. Gottlieb established himself as a pioneer in the movement of Abstract Expressionism and worked actively against the dominating trends of regionalism and realism of the 30’s. He was close with many important artists of the time, Marc Rothko and Barnett Newman for example and together they sought to make American art more experimental
Gottlieb’s work can be described as a reaction to the times in which he lived, and he is well known for three distinct periods or series. The first, which emerged during the second World War is the “Pictograph” series (1941-1951) comprised of loose grids with schematic forms. This was followed by the “Imaginary Landscape” period (1951-1957), which consisted of semi-abstract landscapes. And finally, his “Burst” period, which is his most famous and which he spent almost two decades exploring (1957-1974) revolved around variations of simplified representations of two shapes – a disc hovering above an explosion of calligraphic strokes.
This week’s Work Of the Week! White Ground Red Disk is a prime example of his work from the Burst series.
In the vertical “Bursts,” the series relies heavily on the juxtaposition of forms characterized by an underlining dualism. Gottlieb has brought together, in a single canvas the two poles of Abstract Expressionist painting—the Color Field and Action Painting (or Gestural Abstraction) schools—in a tense balance.
Color Field painting emerged in the late 50’s, and is known for the use of simple geometric patterns and references landscape imagery and nature. The style is characterized primarily by fields of flat, solid color, creating areas of unbroken surface and a one-dimensional picture plane. The Color Field movement places less emphasis on gesture , brushstrokes and action in favor of an overall consistency of form and process. In Color Field painting “color is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself.”
Action painting, on the other hand, is a style of painting in which paint is spontaneously dribbled, splashed or smeared onto the canvas, rather than being carefully applied. It emphasizes the physical act of painting itself as an essential aspect of the finished work or concern of its artist. The images do not portray objects or even specific emotions. Instead, they aim to touch the observer deep in the subconscious mind, tapping the collective sense of an archetypal visual language. This was done by the artist painting “unconsciously,” and spontaneously, creating a powerful arena of raw emotion and action, in the moment.
The dichotomy between the two forms in the work, the disk and the expressive strokes, led the way and formed the bridge for the geometric abstractionists and minimalists such as Frank Stella and Josef Albers.
Additional Adolph Gottlieb work available in the gallery: