Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)
Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)
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A New York State of Mind: An Important Private Collection
Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)

Ochre and Gold

Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)
Ochre and Gold
signed 'Adolph Gottlieb' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
90 x 72 in. (228.6 x 182.9 cm.)
Painted in 1971.
Marlborough Galerie AG, Zürich
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
Private collection, New York
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 3 May 1988, lot 29
Irving Galleries, Palm Beach
Acquired from the above by the present owner
L. Alloway, ''Art'', The Nation, 4 December 1972.
London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. and Zürich, Marlborough Galerie AG, Adolph Gottlieb Paintings 1959-1971, November 1971-March 1972, p. 61 (illustrated).
New York, Marlborough Gallery, Adolph Gottlieb: Paintings 1971-1972, November-December 1972, p. 23 (illustrated).
Detroit, Gertrude Kasle Gallery, Adolph Gottlieb: Recent Paintings, November 1973-January 1974.

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Lot Essay

I try, through colors, forms and lines, to express intimate emotions…
—Adolph Gottlieb

Adolph Gottlieb’s Ochre and Gold (1971), one of his acclaimed Burst paintings from the final and most-identifiable phase of his career, is a transfixing tour-de-force of composition and color. Adhering to a codified visual language, works from the series tend to include two sections, an upper portion containing a radiating circle and a lower portion with a swirling, calligraphic shape, both forms often referred to as bursts. In the present example, a striking maroon circle, surrounded by a concentric halo of ochre, is paired with a nebulous, whirling mass of gold brushstrokes below. As if arrested by unseen planetary forces, the burst’s appear trapped in each other’s orbit, hovering in an expansive, atmospheric backdrop comprised of layers of deep yellow and ochre paint.
The apogee of Gottlieb’s artistic career, the Burst series, begun in 1956 and continued until Gottlieb’s death in 1974, masterfully reconciles opposed schools of thought explored throughout the Abstract Expressionist movement — namely, Color Field and Action painting. A member of the New York school, Gottlieb spent much of his career reckoning with the stylistic tendencies of his acclaimed contemporaries, the likes of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, to name a few. Gottlieb arrived instead upon his own visual vocabulary by synthesizing the immersive properties of color with the gestural character of visible brushwork within a single canvas. The lively, frenetic facture with which he renders the lower burst effuses an energy comparable to the sweeping, dramatic brushstrokes typical of de Kooning’s works. The upper circle, in comparison, is composed and cool, hypnotizing the viewer with an ethereal stillness often found in Rothko’s mesmerizing color field paintings.
Teasingly referring to himself as a trestle painter, Gottlieb often worked with his canvas laid face-up upon a table to avoid paint leaking or dripping down the surface of canvas. This level, horizontal format allowed the artist to stir the layers of paint with both brushes and squeegees, exacting the spherical shapes and amoebic forms, while sprinkling delicate drizzles with care and precision. Hung upright upon drying, the method echoes the practices of Pollock and his drip paintings, but evinces a slightly more constructed and intimate approach, one tamer than the expressive physicality often associated with gestural painting.
Large in scale, the present example investigates the visual-physical relationship between work and viewer, a theme central to Abstract Expressionist’s large-scale, immersive paintings. “Since you don’t have the illusion of vast space as you have in a representational painting, you have to accept the literal, actual size of the painting, and this is the space that we’re confronted with – that’s what you’re looking at” (A. Gottlieb, quoted in an interview by Martin Friedman, New York, August 1962). Coupled with his simplified forms, Gottlieb’s Burst series reveals the artist’s infatuation with “the convergence of scale and economy” (L. Alloway, “Adolph Gottlieb and Abstract Painting,” Adolph Gottlieb: A Retrospective, New York, 1981, p. 59).
Though a relatively simple motif, Gottlieb’s Bursts have taken on myriad meanings from socio-historical to metaphysical. “…Perhaps I have a tendency to oversimplify,” the artist claims, “but I’m inclined to think that this is one of the points of the kind of painting I’m involved in – that the very nature of abstraction, the very nature of abstract thought is to reduce the complexity of all of life and to bring it down to something very simple which embodies all this complexity” (A. Gottlieb, quoted in op. cit.).
Throughout the Atomic Age, roughly spanning 1940-1963, concerns related to nuclear war overwhelmed Western society; the pulsating duo of abstract forms in Gottlieb’s Ochre and Gold, and generally throughout his Burst paintings, bespeak both the distress and nervousness permeating the zeitgeist of the post-war period. In the present work, the upper circle radiates dissipating halos, suggesting an abstract interpretation of an atomic blast — the nuclear mushroom cloud and resulting rings of smoke. Placed directly above the amorphous form below the viewer senses resounding trepidation and anxiety surrounding the destructive potential of developing atomic weaponry. “I try, through colors, forms and lines, to express intimate emotions,” claims the artist (A. Gottlieb, quoted in “Gottlieb Pinta Explosoes,” Ultima Hora La, Sao Paolo, 27 September 1963). “My paintings can represent an atomic bomb, a sun, or something else altogether: depending on the thinking of whoever is looking at it” (A. Gottlieb, quoted in ibid.). Painting during the height of the Cold War, Gottlieb was aware that his works evoked certain associations with the devastating bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but hoped his viewers would never discount alternative readings, particularly in pursuit of more universal truths.
Derived, in part, from his study of the teachings of Carl Jung, Gottlieb’s Bursts channel the essential power of binary systems. With his consistent use of pairs, Gottlieb seems to visually reference the Jungian model of the psyche, a codependent duality consisting of the conscious, or ego, and the unconscious. “Subjective imagery is the area which I have been exploring…I reject the outer world… The subconscious has been my guiding factor in all my work. I deal with inner feeling” the artist explains (A. Gottlieb, quoted in Alloway, op. cit., p. 49). Just as the psyche in Jungian psychology strives to maintain equilibrium between opposite forces, Gottlieb’s Bursts teem with a similar tension while hovering in delicate harmony. As Finley Eversole suggests, in Gottlieb’s Burst paintings, “the sundering of the world into opposites is the precondition for the world’s birth” (F. Eversole, “Blast I: Image of Renewal,” Art Directions, no. 4, Summer 1967, p. 7). Interdependent poles, the duo of bursts is regenerative and uroboric, referencing the cycles of night and day, life and death and dichotomies such as yin and yang, hot and cold, male and female, sun and earth, and stasis and motion.
Gottlieb’s Burst paintings are transcendent in every sense; a veritable trailblazer, his works brilliantly fuse his consummate knowledge of color and refined gestural ability while revealing his perspicacious understanding of elemental forces and dyadic relationships. Captivating the viewer through its deeply evocative color palette and palpable magnetism, Ochre and Gold exemplifies the apotheosis of Gottlieb’s remarkable career.

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