Radiating with power and vibrancy, Gottlieb's Excalibur II demonstrates the classic vernacular of his Burst series, expanded to the large, horizontal format of the artist's Imaginary Landscapes. In the 1963 work, the artist suspends his signature red orb above disjointed, calligraphic black paint. Reducing his painted marks to their formal essence, Gottlieb creates an evocatively elemental composition with graphic and chromatic punch. The work's apt title recalls the words of art critic Lawrence Alloway, who said, "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).
In Excalibur II, the compositional elements radiate with an intensity that seems to exceed their physical boundaries: while the upper disc pulses with energy, the calligraphic surges of black paint below emits a sense of organic, gestural movement. Observing his frequent use of red and black tones, 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.). The work's abstract forms reverberate with the tension of the Atomic Age with its glowing blood-red orb and black force field. As it captures the intense zeitgeist of the time, Excalibur II also generates universal associations through its basic binary structure, bringing to mind the mythological clash of Apollonian and Dionysian forces or the eternal cycle of creation and destruction.
The elemental power and painterly bravura of Excalibur II illustrate Gottlieb's influential role as a leading pioneer of Abstract Expressionism. In the 1963 work, Gottlieb's nuanced division of his canvas recalls the work of Rothko, Newman and Still, while his signature forms are uniquely his own. Gottlieb's friendship with Rothko provided the most significant developments within his art: together, each artist worked to refine their signature forms. Like Rothko with his floating rectangles, Gottlieb perfected his "burst" as a crucial declaration of his unique, artistic vernacular.
Artists' sessions at Studio 35: upper photograph, left to right: Seymour Lipton, Norman Lewis, Jimmy Ernst, Peter Grippe, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Robert Motherwell, Richard Lippold, Willem de Kooning, Ibram Lassaw, James Brooks, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Pousette-Dart; lower photograph, left to right: James Brooks, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Pousette-Dart, Louise Bourgeois, Herbert Ferber, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Janice Biala, Robert Goodnough, Hedda Sterne, David Hare, Barnett Newman, Seymour Lipton, Norman Lewis, Jimmy Ernst (1950), from "Modern Artists in America," No. 1. New York, Wittenborn-Schultz, 1951. Digital Image (c) The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA Art Resource, NY
Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 78, 1962. Yale University Art Gallery Art Resource, NY