In the striking, Flotsam, Gottlieb combines his signature "Imaginary Landscapes" and "Bursts" to create a new, innovative composition on monumental scale. Painted in 1973, this work demonstrates Gottlieb's newfound artistic freedom as a mature painter: he composes the work on large scale-on a canvas over 10 feet wide, preserving the work's pictorial unity and inserting a new formal intensity. While the artist consistently experimented with visual dualities and opposing imagery, in Flotsam, he reduces his forms to their formal and tonal essence, declaring his artistic maturity along the horizontal picture plane.
According to Gottlieb, in his later paintings, he uses color to convey a mood. Without Gottlieb's additions of pure, exuberant color, Flotsam would appear ominous and austere. The artist paints large shapes of sky blue, orange, red, and black that seem to float to the top edge of the canvas. A small round dot of green is added just above the gestural strokes on the bottom half. His expressive splatters of grey paint create an illusionary distance, making the black and white crosses appear to be placed in the foreground.
The artist was an avid sailor and frequently used nautically-themed titles such as Flotsam, which refers to ship wreckage that's found on the sea's surface or washed up onto shore. Gottlieb's pictures were often inspired by his everyday experiences, though never sought to represent through his imagery. Just as fellow New York school painter Jackson Pollock saw the visual equivalence between the Atlantic and the West's open space, Gottlieb's incorporation of wide, expansive space into her pictures is clearly informed by his sailing. While this sense of space is exclusively shown in his late pictures, Gottlieb's title recalls signature works of the 1950s, such as the Museum of Modern Art's Flotsam at Noon. But in this 1973 rendering, Gottlieb shows a more nuanced version of his abstract formats-instead of delineating the horizon as in the MoMA picture, Gottlieb merely suggests the horizon.