Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)
Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)

Orange Calligraphy

Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)
Orange Calligraphy
signed, titled and dated 'Adolph Gottlieb 1969 "ORANGE CALLIGRAPHY"' (on the reverse)
oil and acrylic on canvas
46 x 60 in. (116.8 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 1969.
Marlborough Galleria d'Arte, Rome
Estate of Sigmund E. Edelstone, Chicago
His sale; Christie's, New York, 1 November 1984, lot 56
Irwin and Bethea Green, Boca Raton
Their sale; Christie's, New York, 18 November 1997, lot 108
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Rome, Marlborough Galleria d’Arte and Bergamo, Galleria Lorenzelli, Adolph Gottlieb, March-May 1970 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Orange Calligraphy offers up a starkly simplified graphical composition presenting two powerful forms set dramatically against each other. The particular abstract forms included here—the orb and the calligraphic stroke—are immediately recognizable as those of Adolph Gottlieb, the distinguished Abstract Expressionist painter. The curving, sinuous lines and the glowing, luminous sun-like spheres are a vocabulary found throughout Gottlieb’s famous Burst series of paintings. Of this unique aesthetic, the critic Lawrence Alloway enthused, “Gottlieb’s balance of surface and mark, field and gesture, has no parallel among his contemporaries. …[He] was sensitive to the spread of color and equally responsive to the inventory of forms revealed by a quick brush” (L. Alloway, Adolph Gottlieb: A Retrospective, New York, 1995, p. 54).

Against a large, cream-white canvas, a lively and colorful collection of abstract shapes alternately float and spiral across the picture surface. Four orbs—two green, one blue and one black—hover above a tangled and complex twist of calligraphy, the meandering lines scripted in hues of orange, black and gray. Occasionally across the canvas support flecks of black paint speckle both the white background and the abstract shapes, adding depth to the composition; “Gottlieb is a colorist. …He has perfected as fine a cognizance for the value of color as any painter of his time” (R. Doty and D. Waldman, Adolph Gottleib, exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1968, p. 21).

The vivid colors Gottlieb chose for Orange Calligraphy enliven the composition, the bright and vibrant shades of blue, green and orange offering an intense counterpoint to the more somber and muted gray, white and black. The artist uses color here with great success to define a lively and multilayered surface engaging all the elements of his composition. As such, the painting radiates energy, but an energy that is both cooler and brighter because of its upbeat multicolored surface.

The visual vocabulary of the image expresses a forceful dynamism, suggestive, perhaps, of an abstracted landscape or seascape, articulated by means of a radical distillation of simplified graphic shapes. The abstract composition and simple shapes open up the painting to a wide range of interpretations encompassing both physical landscape and interior psychological or spiritual terrain. However, the title, with its reference to writing across a sheet of paper, points toward the gesture of applying pigment to surface itself.

The two orbs that control the upper portion of the canvas—the left one an inky black admitting no light, and the rightward one a vibrant sky blue shade haloed in white—seem to exist as polar opposites, exerting an opposing gravitational pull on each other. The glowing halo surrounding the blue disc is one of the composition’s most powerful features, exerting a force upon on the viewer and drawing the eye toward the top right quadrant of the painting. Three much smaller orbs, two green and one white, drift downward, juxtaposed between the larger, more dominant black and blue spheres, their descent tracing a curving line, eventually merging with the sinuous forms occupying the bottom portion of the canvas. This snakelike skein of wide, curved brushstroke lines loop and twist beside, along and through each other. Above them, thinner strands of paint, laid down in drips reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, skate across the canvas surface. Seemingly held in an electrically charged field binding them to the orb shapes above, the dense curling mass, with its fluid, irregular borders made of trailing brushstrokes, spirals across the lower third of the composition. Gottlieb explained his use of color thus, “I want to express the utmost intensity of the color, bring out the quality, make it expressive…so that it exists as sensation and a feeling that it will carry nuances not necessarily inherent in the color, which are brought out by juxtaposition” (A. Gottlieb quoted in R. Doty and D. Waldman, Adolph Gottlieb, exh. cat. The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1968, p. 21).

Often overshadowed by the giants of Abstract Expressionism, Adolph Gottlieb paintings were among the first works of his contemporaries to be acquired by a major institution when the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York purchased 11 of his works in 1945, followed—in 1946—by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He was the recipient of numerous prizes and awards during his lifetim, including being the first American to win the Gran Premio at the Bienal do São Paulo in 1963. His works of art are now in the collections of more than 140 major museums in the United States and internationally.

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