Red and Green is a classic Adolph Gottlieb painting that was formerly in the collection of the influential critic-poet, Harold Rosenberg. The two were close friends--the present lot was a gift from the artist.
Rosenberg wrote one of the defining texts on Abstract Expressionism, which appeared in Art News in 1952, in which he elucidated the qualities of action painting. In what is perhaps the most oft-quoted passages about the movement, Rosenberg opined, "At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act--rather as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze or 'express' an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event" (H. Rosenberg, "The American Action Painters," Art News, December 1952, p. 22). This catch-all description did not apply to all New York School artists, but its simplicity and lucidity were unavoidable--although Rosenberg had his detractors, it remains a landmark text.
In the fifties, Gottlieb created his two most compelling themes, beginning with his Imaginary Landscapes in 1951 and his Burst paintings in 1957. The two compositions--a horizontal format consisting of shapes floating above a landscape, and a vertical format of a single large shape above an exploding form, respectively--would be revisited and developed for the rest of the artist's career. Red and Green collapses both themes, with its chunky forms delicately wafting over a beautifully expressive seris of "bursts" along the lower edge of the picture.
There is a strong poetic quality to the painting which would have appealed to Rosenberg. Among the bravura, calligraphic passages at the lower edge is an infinity symbol, which in Gottlieb's hands doubles as a wave-like form that lends a seascape feeling to the work. Indeed, Gottlieb loved sailing and many of his "landscapes" are actually seascapes. The pale fleshy round at the left can be read as a spiritual trace of the green orb in the center, or perhaps as an after-image of the setting sun.
A luminous painting that functions equally as a powerfully plastic abstract painting and an extended observation on the sublime, Red and Green is a work of a self-assured master at the height of his powers.