William Baziotes was one of the so-called "Mythmakers": a group of artists comprising Baziotes, Pollock, Rothko, and Gottlieb, all of whom were included in an important exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1947 called "The Ideographic Picture". The unifying theme of the show was the artists' understanding of Surrealist art and automatism; the anthropologically-based psychology of Jung, with its implications of a common cultural heritage of images; and their reaction against the allegorical themes favored by Ben Shahn and other realists in favor of symbolic, mytho-poetic abstractions. Rothko wrote, "If previous abstractions paralleled the scientific and objective preoccupations of our times, ours are finding a pictorial equivalent for man's new knowledge and consciousness of his more complex inner self" (M. Leja, "The Formation of An Avante-Garde in New York", in Abstract Expressionism: The Critical Developments, New York 1987, p. 23).
Baziotes' endeavors came in the context of a culture finding a new set of criteria for the rules of society after the horrors of war. For Baziotes and his colleagues, the primitive, the mythic, and the symbolic seemed to have a power well beyond the explanations their modern, material culture offered. While the subject of their work unified them as a group, their paintings diverged widely in style, from the heavily impastoed surfaces of Pollock's paintings of the mid-1940s to Gottlieb's partitioned Pictographs to the almost watercolor-like, delicate abstractions that Baziotes created from the mid-1940s until his death in 1963.
In Tropical, a masterful example of Baziotes' mature style, a soft, radiant light suffuses an undefined coral and blue landscape. Three biomorphic images are depicted, hovering in or on the space: a sense of lightness, both as illumiation and delicacy, pervades all. We don't know whether we are under water, viewing peculiar, pre-historic life-forms emerging from the depths, or on the surface of some otherworldly place. We become subsumed into the misty, mythic world Baziotes has created for us, a world that knows no time, no boundaries of any kind except the limitations that we place on our own understanding of it.