American, 1903 - 1974
Adolph Gottlieb was a prominent American painter and member of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. Characterized by an idiosyncratic use of abstraction, he utilized pictographs and mythological symbol. His works achieved an emotional intensity through both color and line. Gottlieb departed New York in 1921 to study art in Paris by working aboard a steamer bound for France. In Paris, Gottlieb immersed himself in both classical and modern art traditions: he visited the Louvre almost every day to study the Masters and was also exposed to the avant-garde movements of Fauvism and Cubism. He audited the open life-drawing classes at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere since he was too poor to officially enroll. However, since he did not have of a visa, he was forced to leave France. Gottlieb then traveled throughout Germany and Austria, as well as Holland, Belgium, Italy, and Prague. Gottleib returned to New York in 1922 to finish his studies at Parsons and Cooper Union. Gottlieb's exposure to Europe's avant-garde convinced him that American painting was stagnant in comparison, and he strove to incorporate what he had learned abroad into a new style.
Entering into a milieu of painters that included Mark Rothko and Lou Schanker, Gottlieb like Rothko began producing works which were influenced by the stylized figuration of Milton Avery. Interested in Surrealism, Gottlieb’s work became more abstract as it incorporated ideas such as automatic drawing and the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung into his practice. By the 1960s, he began producing some of his most famous works, collectively known as the Burst Paintings, the common motif of these works is a sun-like orb hovering above calligraphic marks.Gottlieb's art employed universal symbols of his own invention that transcended time, place, and language to appeal to the level of the unconscious mind and to offer a pathway of release from a trouble-ridden period in history. As is demonstrated in his groundbreaking Pictographs, Gottlieb believed that new imagery was required to respond to the contemporary and subjective experience of the viewer. Rejecting traditional narratives, Gottlieb drew images and materials from many diverse sources, discretely arranging each image in individual compartments on the canvas. Without a clear syntax or narrative, Gottlieb intended for the arrangement of the images and their meaning to communicate and connect with an idea or feeling that already resided within the viewer. Gottlieb employed increasingly abstract symbols and continued to work toward universal meaning during his mature period. The goal of his later works was to use the simplest form in order to convey the complexity of life, exploring the emotional effects of colors and of space directly on the canvas. Gottlieb valued the artist’s role as a leader and creator, and he served as both with his art and his organizing abilities. He was a founding member of artist’s groups as early as The Ten in 1935, and helped organize the Federation of American Painters and Sculptors (1939) and New York Artist-Painters (1943); was instrumental in organizing the Forum 49 sessions in Provincetown and New York City and was the primary organizer of the protest that led to the naming of he and his friends as “The Irascibles” in 1951.
Throughout his career Adolph Gottlieb had 56 solo exhibitions and was included in over 200 group exhibitions. His works of art are in the collections of more than 140 major museums around the world. Gottlieb was accomplished as a painter, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor. He designed and oversaw construction of a 1500 square-foot stained glass façade for the Milton Steinberg Center in New York City in 1954, and he designed a suite of 18 stained glass windows for the Kingsway Jewish Center in Brooklyn. He was the first of his generation to have his art collected by the Museum of Modern Art (1946) and the Guggenheim Museum (1948).Adolph Gottlieb died in New York City in 1974. He left a legacy of art, active involvement in the art and progressive movements of his time, and a foundation that extends his legacy of giving to individual artists and promoting their interests.