Adolph Gottlieb 1903-1974

Artist biography

American painter and sculptor. He was the best travelled of the New York painters, and the breadth of his training and art-historical knowledge served him well in his teaching, which was his principal means of support during the mid 1930s.

In a letter that Gottlieb and Rothko wrote to the New York Times in June 1943, they laid the theoretical foundations for Abstract expressionism.

Gottlieb had begun using primitive, timeless images in the Pictographs initiated in 1941 after his return to New York. Whenever Gottlieb discovered that one of his signs had an actual precedent in a past culture, he dropped it from his painting vocabulary, thereby rendering his work ‘mute'. This was his gesture towards a universal grammar, or principle of order common to all humanity. Gottlieb hoped that by calling attention to the fundamental properties of language, he would involve spectators in a universal experience.

By the early 1950s his Pictographs had been superseded by a series of Imaginary Landscapes. The Burst series that followed presented a radically simplified image. They usually consisted of two shapes, a red disc above a writhing black mass near the bottom of the picture. Together these forms, in various combinations, continued to play out not only the relationship of object to ground in landscape painting, but also an almost theatrical confrontation of two protagonists as in history painting. Gottlieb distilled the most fundamental relationships out of a complex of sensations re-created with the utmost economy.

M. Friedman: Adolph Gottlieb (Minneapolis, 1963)
H. Rand: ‘Adolph Gottlieb in Context', Artmagazine, li/6 (1977), pp. 112–35
I. Sandler: ‘Adolph Gottlieb', A. Int., xxi/3 (1977), pp. 35–8
K. Wilkin: ‘Adolph Gottlieb: The Pictographs', A. Int., xxi/6 (1977), pp. 27–33 [on the exhibition at Edmonton, Alta, A.G.]
Adolph Gottlieb: Pictographs (exh. cat. by K. Wilkin, Edmonton, Alta, A.G.; Toronto, A.G. Ont.; 1977–8)


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