Burma Red is a classic rendition of Adolph Gottlieb's Burst series, painted by the artist in the penultimate year of his life. With a mature confidence of color and brushstroke, the artist is able to express universal, elemental compositions with visual punch. Burma Red's essential forms allow Gottlieb to fully express his prodigious command of gesture and color. The influential art critic Lawrence Alloway wrote of the series, "Gottlieb's balance of surface and mark, field and gesture, has no parallel among his contemporaries" (L. Alloway, "Adolph Gottlieb and Abstract Painting," Adolph Gottlieb: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., p. 54). No longer interested in portraying a thing or even a symbol, Gottlieb's work considers only color and form, organized to express emotion. Gottlieb said "the true essence of abstraction is to reduce the complexity of life and turn it into something very simple and yet something that contains all that complexity" (A. Gottlieb, "Excerpt from an interview the artist by Martin Friedman, 1962," The Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Foundation, Inc., www.gottliebfoundation.com/the-artist).
Burma Red depicts a glowing red circle bordered by a halo of graduated tones of the same hue, all of which sits above an abstract explosion of black paint. Gottlieb reduces elemental colors into minimal forms, giving them a powerfully visual impact. Observing his frequent use of these pigments in the Burst series, Gottlieb remarked, "I feel that I use color in terms of an emotional quality... a vehicle for the expression of feeling. Now what this feeling is, is something I probably can't define, but since I eliminated almost everything from my painting except a few colors and perhaps two or three shapes, I feel a necessity for making the particular colors that I use, or the particular shapes, carry the burden of everything that I want to express, and all has to be concentrated within these few elements. Therefore, the color has to carry the burden of this effort" (A. Gottlieb, "Selected Writings," The Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Foundation, Inc., www.gottliebfoundation.org/the-artist).
Burma Red's nuanced division of the canvas with two abstract forms recalls the work of Rothko, Newman and Still, whereas its gestural drips find their roots in the active brushstrokes of Kline, Pollock and de Kooning. With Rothko, Gottlieb helped define the Color Field movement; yet Gottlieb's incorporation of both formats individuates his work from that of his contemporaries. The artist also found stylistic influence beyond the confines of the New York School; Burma Red bears striking resemblance to Joan Miró's 1950s compositions, which depict the same abstract egg-shapes, painted in bright colors and graphic black lines. However, Gottlieb's friendship with Rothko provided the most significant developments within his art: together, each artist worked to refine the form of their signature image. Like Barnett Newman with his "zip," Rothko created his floating rectangles and Gottlieb perfected his "burst," crucial declarations of their artistic legacy.