Adolph Gottlieb's Parallels from 1961 is an exceptional painting from the artist's celebrated Blast series. Exhibited at the Sidney Janis Gallery's important show, Recent Paintings by Adolph Gottlieb, in New York in 1962, with ten other Blast paintings, Parallels is a brilliant, shimmering work that represents Adolph Gottlieb at the peak of his career. The painting was selected by Charles Offin to represent the show when he illustrated it for his review in Cue Magazine in 1961. The Blasts, created between 1957 and 1961, are considered to be Gottlieb's signature series. Composed of two elemental forms set against an expansive field of color, the Blasts represent the culmination of Gottlieb's career and demonstrate Gottlieb's ability to evoke strong emotion using only the most elemental forms. In 1957, Clement Greenberg called Adolph Gottlieb "one of the most adventurous artists in the country" (C. Greenberg, quoted in I. Sandler, Adolph Gottlieb, exh. cat., Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, 1977, n.p.).
Parallels' orb is rendered blood red and surrounded by a scratchy black shadow, out of which thick black paint, reminiscent of viscous automobile oil, is flung outward like a Pollock drip. A soft, wide halo of brilliant blue surrounds the red disc, the boundaries of which float softly outward to fuse with the painting's expansive background of greenish-gray. The disc seems to throb with Atomic energy, and indeed Gottlieb's Blasts have been said to evoke the volatility of the Atomic age. Gottlieb and Mark Rothko have said that the horrors of World War II influenced their paintings. In 1943 Gottlieb wrote, "That these feelings are being experienced by so many people throughout the world is an unfortunate fact, and to us an art that glosses over or evades these feelings is superficial and meaningless" (A. Gottlieb, quoted in Ibid, n.p.).
Gottlieb's earlier pictographs had been created in direct response to Pearl Harbor, and the Blasts responded to the Atomic Age. The uncanny serenity of Parallels' upper register is contrasted to the detonated blast below, here rendered in layer upon layer of color and topped by a powerful burst of white. The painting evokes the devastation of D-Day in its lower half, but the brilliant red sun, surrounded by its serene blue halo in the upper register might denote the sun's triumphant rising the day after destruction.
Because of its use of two fundamentally opposing forms, Parallels generates subconscious associations with a wide range of possibilities. The sun-disc and bomb-blast are held in dramatic suspension within the painting's expansive background, forever exerting their own fundamental energies against each other. Gottlieb was keenly aware of these associations, but felt that viewers should be free to come to their own conclusions. The painting's structure recalls any myriad of interpretations, from the intimate relationship between yin and yang, heaven and hell and the eternal cycle of creation and destruction. This format, so elemental yet so profound, allowed Gottlieb to fully express his prodigious command of gesture and color.
Parallels illustrates that Gottlieb, at the height of his powers as a painter, was a consummate colorist. Within the composition's opposing forms, Gottlieb has given us the opposing colors of blue and red, black and white, all set upon a richly hued background with a subtlety and nuanced touch that recalls his friend, Mark Rothko. If Rothko used color to evoke three principal emotions -- tragedy, ecstasy and doom -- then Gottlieb can be seen to integrate those principles within his already profound painting structure.