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 Adolph Gottlieb  (1903 - 1974)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: primitive painting-totemic non objective and realosm

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Adolph Gottlieb
from Auction House Records.
Cool Blast
Art © Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY See Details
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in New York City in 1903, Adolph Gottlieb was a founding member of The Ten, a group devoted to abstract art with whom he was active for about five years.  He became a major exponent of Abstract Expressionism whose painting style is linked to Marc Rothko, Clyfford Still and Barnet Newman.  A major theme in Gottlieb's painting is the challenge to humans to resolve dualities within the universe, the pressure of opposites: male and female, chaos and order, creation and destruction, order and chaos.

His career is described as having four phases: Pictographs (1940s), Grids and Imaginary Landscapes (1951 to 1957), Bursts (1957 to 1974) and Imaginary Landscapes (1960s).  Although he lived primarily in New York City and was one of the few Abstract Expressionists born in that city, time spent in Arizona and Provincetown, Massachusetts had a marked influence on him.

Gottlieb studied at the Art Students League with Social Realists John Sloan and Robert Henri, but left abruptly in 1921 for Paris where he enrolled at the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere.  Returning in 1923, he lived in New York and developed an interest in primitive sculpture.

He was a WPA mural artist and painted a mural in 1939 for the Post Office in Yerington, Nevada.  From 1937 to 1939, he was in Tucson, Arizona, which influenced his subsequent "pictograph" series that occupied him the remainder of his life.  The pictographs involved compartmentalized grid divisions of the canvas, primitive iconography and imaginary landscapes and were intended "to evoke mythological responses" (Baigell 141).  For him, the time in the Arizona desert was a time of transition from expressionist landscapes to highly personal still lifes of simple desert items such as gourds and peppers.  From November 13, 1999 to January 9, 2000, the Tucson Museum of Art held an exhibition, Adolph Gottlieb and the West", sponsored by the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation.  The publicity described it as "dedicated to more than 50 works from the seminal Abstract Expressionists little-known 1937-1938 stay in the Arizona desert."

In the early 1950s, he designed a stained-glass exterior, 1,350 square feet, for the Milton Steinberg Memorial Center in New York City. His work was religious in tone but not specifically dogmatic.

Sources include:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Jessie Benton Evans Gray, exhibition informaton of the Tucson Museum of Art

Biography from GallArt.com:
Adolph Gottlieb, American (1903 - 1974)

Adolph Gottlieb was born in New York City in 1903. From 1920-1921 he studied at the Art Students League of New York, after which he traveled in France and Germany for a year. Before his skills had fully developed he studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. When he returned, he was one of the most traveled New York Artists.

In the mid-1930’s, he became a teacher using his acquired technical and art history knowledge to teach while he painted. In 1935 he was a founding member of The Ten, a group devoted to abstract art, and he became a major exponent of Abstract Expressionism whose painting style is linked to Marc Rothko, Clyfford Still and Barnet Newman. A major theme in his painting was the challenge to humans to resolve dualities within the universe, the pressure of opposites: male and female, chaos and order, creation and destruction, order and chaos.

He was a WPA mural artist and from 1937 to 1939 was in Arizona, which influenced his subsequent "pictograph" series that occupied him the remainder of his life. The pictographs involved grid divisions of the canvas, primitive iconography, and imaginary landscapes. For him, the time in the Arizona desert was a time of transition from expressionist landscapes to highly personal still lifes of simple desert items such as gourds and peppers.

During World War II, Gottlieb encountered exiled Surrealists in New York and they added to and reaffirmed his belief in the subconscious as the well for evocative and universal art. This belief led him to experiment with basic and elemental symbols. The results of his experiments manifested themselves in his series “Pictographs” which spanned from 1941-1950. In his painting Voyager’s Return, he juxtaposes these symbols in compartmentalized spaces. His symbols reflect those of indigenous populations of North America and the Ancient Near East. However, once he found out one of his symbols was not original, he no longer used it. He wanted his symbols to have the same impact on all his viewers, striking a chord not because they had seen it before, but because it was so basic and elemental that it resounded within them.

In the 1950 he began his new series "Imaginary Landscapes" he retained his usage of a ‘pseudo-language,’ but added the new element of space. He was not painting landscapes in the traditional sense, rather he modified that genre to match his own style of painting. He painted simple figures in the foreground, and simple figures in the background, and the viewer can read the depth.

In his last series "Burst", which started in 1957, he simplifies his representation down to two shapes discs and winding masses. His paintings are variations with these elements arranged in different ways. This series, unlike the "Imaginary Landscape" series, suggests a basic landscape with a sun and a ground. On another level, the shapes are so rudimentary; they are not limited to this one interpretation. Gottlieb was a masterful colorist as well and in the Burst series his use of color is particularly crucial. He is considered one of the first color field painters and is one of the forerunners of Lyrical Abstraction.

Gottlieb’s career was marked by the evolution of space and universality. Gottlieb had a stroke in 1970, but continued on with his painting and worked on the Burst series until his death in 1974. In 1976 the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation was formed, offering grants to visual artists.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, E-O):
Born in New York in 1903, Adolph Gottlieb studied at several New York art schools and traveled abroad extensively. During this early period, he befriended Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and John D. Graham.

In 1935, Gottlieb, with Rothko, William Baziotes, and others, founded the Ten, a group opposed to the dominance of American Regionalism in the New York art world. Exhibiting together for five years, these artists, along with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and others would come to be known as the first generation of Abstract Expressionists.

In 1937 Gottlieb moved to Arizona, where exposure to Native American wall paintings and the desert landscape contributed to his developing aesthetic. Surrealism also emerged as a strong influence. The Surrealists’ emphasis on the collective unconscious and primal motifs resonated with Gottlieb’s desire to create universal art using elemental symbols. These varied influences inspired Gottlieb to develop his pictographs, which he first exhibited in 1942 at the second annual exhibition of the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors at Wildenstein Galleries. Later that year, he exhibited a series of pictographs in a solo exhibition at Artists’ Gallery, New York.

In 1943, Gottlieb and Rothko wrote a letter to "The New York Times," in which they made the first formal statement of Abstract Expressionism: “We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.”

In his paintings of the 1950s and 1960s, Gottlieb demonstrated an increasing interest in color-field painting and abstract symbolism. He died in 1974.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

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Adolph Gottlieb is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Modernism
Abstract Expressionism



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