Vertical is a fine work by Gottlieb that references his key motifs of the Burst and Imaginary Landscape, generating subconscious associations with a wide range of possibilities. The sun-disc and bomb-blast are held in dramatic suspension within the painting's expansive background, forever exerting their own fundamental energies against each other. Gottlieb was keenly aware of these associations, but felt that viewers should be free to come to their own conclusions. The painting's structure recalls any myriad of interpretations, from the intimate relationship between yin and yang, heaven and hell and the eternal cycle of creation and destruction. This format, so elemental yet so profound, allowed Gottlieb to fully express his prodigious command of gesture and color. In the present painting, Gottlieb, at the height of his powers as a painter, shows him to be a consummate colorist, the background being an expanse of gorgeous red, a richly hued background.
Gottlieb's signature series of Blast and Imaginary Landscape paintings represent the culmination of his career as one of the most influential members of the New York school, a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism. Each of the Blast paintings revolves around a radically simplified composition of two explosive forms hovering on the clear white ground of an epically scaled canvas. Typically, the upper form is a hazy circle and the lower form is a black tangle of paint. Gottlieb generates an elemental tension between them that is virtually electric. The painting's binary structure generates associations with a wide range of elemental oppositions, from the conflict between heaven and hell to the mythological clash of Apollonian and Dionysian forces or the eternal cycle creation and destruction. The paintings' expansive forms offered Gottlieb an ideal opportunity to convey his prodigious command of gesture and color that he had honed over several decades of concentrated engagement with painting. Both elements of the composition radiate with an intensity that exceeds their physical boundaries—the upper disc is a bright orange and bottom element, an equally saturated pink, while the calligraphic surge of black paint on the edge radiates a sense of imminent movement and expansion.