Cool Blast of 1960, a stellar work from Adolph Gottlieb's celebrated Blast series, exudes an imposing monumentality of form that burst forth from the canvas. Gottlieb's signature series of Blast paintings represent the culmination of his career as one of the most influential members of the New York school, a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism. Each of the Blast paintings revolves around a radically simplified composition of two explosive forms hovering on the clear white ground of an epically scaled canvas. Typically, the upper form is a hazy circle and the lower form is a black tangle of paint. Gottlieb generates an elemental tension between them that is virtually electric. Another example from the series, Blast I of 1957, is part of the permanent collection Museum of Modern Art in New York. Gottlieb dedicated himself almost exclusively to exploring this pared-down format from 1957 until 1960, drawing a range of expressive effects out of this duality of form through his powerful brushwork and manipulation of color.
The volatile abstract forms Gottlieb rendered in Cool Blast clearly reverberate with the tension of the Atomic Age. Indeed, Gottlieb's Blast paintings offer arguably the most compelling abstract interpretation of the atomic blast in Post-War art. Both segments of the canvas seem to radiate with atomic energy, from the bloodred halo that glows in the upper form to the black force field that has detonated below. Gottlieb's earlier Pictographs were created in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and he reacted to the widespread pain and fear this national tragedy generated by asserting, "That these feelings are being experienced by many people throughout the world today is an unfortunate fact, and to us an art that glosses over or evades these feelings is superficial or meaningless" (A. Gottlieb, quoted in "The Portrait and the Modern Artist," October 13, 1943, broadcast on Radio WNYC, Art in New York program). Gottlieb's Blast paintings, created in the wake of World War II, at the height of the Cold War, seem to express the unfathomable fallout of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was keenly aware of this association, but he also claimed that viewers should not exclude other readings. The painting's binary structure generates associations with a wide range of elemental oppositions, from the conflict between heaven and hell to the mythological clash of Apollonian and Dionysian forces or the eternal cycle creation and destruction. The paintings' expansive forms offered Gottlieb an ideal opportunity to convey his prodigious command of gesture and color that he had honed over several decades of concentrated engagement with painting. Both elements of the composition radiate with an intensity that exceeds their physical boundaries -- the upper disc pulses from an encrusted core of blood red to generate a halo of residual color, while the calligraphic surge of black paint below emits a sense of imminent movement and expansion. Like Rothko, the edges of Gottlieb's color fields offer some of the most scintillating passages in his paintings, such as the halo of thinly applied red paint briming with energy and the lively trickles of paint dancing around the weighty black expanse.
The imposing composition and painterly bravura of Cool Blast dramatically come together to invest the canvas elemental power. Indeed, by the time Gottlieb painted Cool Blast in 1960, he considered himself to be at the height of his powers as a painter.