A major force in the creation and development of the New York School of the 1940s and 50s, Adolph Gottlieb was one of the most significant figures of Abstract Expressionism. Burst No. 3, 1967 is part of the Burst series that would characterize the artist's later career, demonstrating his enduring commitment to the belief that art should reflect the soul and the experience of its creator.
Gottlieb's Bursts resonate emotionally with the viewer. They are the culmination of the artist's life-long study of signs and symbols that he believed to be universally profound. The bursts are therefore at the same time highly personal and universally moving.
In an address which Gottlieb delivered to a conference of the Pacific Art Association in 1956, he announced, "His values [Gottlieb's] have to center around creativity and nothing else. Therefore, to paint well, to express one's own uniqueness, to express something of the uniqueness of one's own time, to relate to the great traditions of art, to communicate with a small but elite audience, these are the satisfactions of the artist." (A. Gottlieb as quoted by S. Hirsch, Adolph Gottlieb, A Retrospective, New York, 1981, p.10).
No work better demonstrates the need of the artist to express an innate creativity than the Burst series of the 1960's. Gottlieb's uncanny ability to relate to the viewer on a profound and essentially subconscious level has assured his place in the Western canon of 20th century art history. Gottlieb wrote, "The role of the artist, of course, has always been that of image maker. Different times require different images. Today when our aspirations have been reduced to a desperate attempt to escape from evil, and times are out of joint, our obsessive, subterranean and pictographic images are the expression of the neurosis which is our reality." (A.Gottlieb as quoted by M.D.MacNaughton, Adolph Gottlieb, A Retrospective, New York, 1981, p. 44).
Lawrence Alloway comments on the red and black on white color scheme that began with the Burst series; "We can conclude that the black and red were a personal code for the impersonal. It was a knowing, consciously American decision to use vernacular color." Alloway explains the burst motif as "freely painted but firmly delimited formsthey do not touch, but it feels as if they were bound together, as by planetary forcesthe lower form is black and painted in a choppy gestural way; the upper form, red, is smoother in surface and edge, but not closed or measured. It is the product of another type of gesture." (L. Alloway, "Adolph Gottlieb and Abstract Painting," Adolph Gottlieb, A Retrospective, New York, 1981, p. 58). It is this ability to combine the emotive forces of color and gesture that has lead critics to esteem Gottlieb as unparalleled among his contemporaries.