Lawrence Alloway wrote:
"It is a sign of Gottlieb's persistent curiosity about figure-ground relationships that he alone of the Abstract Expressionists uses the horizon. The Imaginary Landscapes consist of zones of earth and sky, starkly divided by an horizon parallel to the long top and bottom of the picture, at right angles to the sides. These paintings are schematic in form and luxurious in facture. The terrestrial areas are highly brushy and the solar areas, open and spare by contrast. The firmly painted circular forms are never geometrically neat, but are organically varied, like the silhouette of a fruit or the outline of a glans in cross-section.
Some of the painting is improvised in the act of working, but this is a situation of informed process, of control not impulsive hunting. The sequences of disks, ellipses, segments, or blocks of color have a freely inventive character...Below the straight-line horizon the lower area is often suggestive of water. Even when the zone is black, brown, and warm, as it is in The Frozen Sounds I, the imagery has tidal implications, as if the upper forms were affecting the lower plane, which is always sensuous and sometimes turbulent. This reading is supported by titles, such as Sea and Tide [see Lot 146] and Eclipse, both 1952" (L. Alloway, "Adolph Gottlieb and Abstract Painting," Adolph Gottlieb: A Retrospective, New York, 1981, p. 56).
Cold Wave exhibits just the qualities that Alloway so poetically described above, including its aquatic title. To counterbalance a literal reading of a seascape however, the painting is composed primarily with red, black and white paints, colors which seem almost neutral, impersonal or ready-made. Gottlieb's choice of color creates a tension with the naturalistic composition, while drawing attention to the bold, abstract gestures. The Imaginary Landscape series is a groundbreaking body of works, a clean break from the Pictograph series and its link to American Surrealism. The signature elements of heavenly orbs and textured earth horizon would lead to the Burst series, Gottlieb's most reknowned body of work.
Cold Wave is a rare, medium-scale Imaginary Landscape. Held by one family since its purchase in 1956, it has not been publicly exhibited for over forty years. Its subtle investigation of figure-ground relationships is as challenging today as ever, and stands as an iconic example of Abstract Expressionism.