Adolph Gottlieb's Early Work
American painting of the 40s, when first seen as a unit called Abstract Expressionism or Action Painting, was celebrated for its confluence of major talents, and rightly. It has been less frequently remarked that there is one group of artists, working in various styles, who developed in the early 1940s, and another group that does not come on strong until later in the decade. The distinction is worth making, as a step towards replacing the clap-of-thunder theory of New York Painting with a complex and graduated set of real relationships. De Kooning, Gorky, and Pollock are the possessors of strong styles early, and so is Adolph Gottlieb ; others, such as Baziotes, Hofmann, Kline, Motherwell, Newman and Rothko do not develop fully characteristic styles until the later 40s. (I omit Still from either group until his dating has been cleared up.) Rothko's watercolors or Motherwell's collages are not of fundamental consequence compared to their later work; Gottlieb's Pictographs, however, though different from his later work, are no less purposeful and developed. The Pictographs of the 40s, along with some later work, are on view at the Guggenheim Museum and his later work is at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Gottlieb remembers 1. how Rothko and himself, discussing the impasse of American painting in 1941, were considering alternatives. What to do instead of subway scenes with Pittura Metafisica hints, like Rothko, or still lifes on the beach, derived from object pictures like Pierre Roy's, as in Gottlieb's case. They decided that a change of subject matter was needed and they concurred on their next subject: classical mythology. Rothko began his Aeschylus watercolors and Gottlieb painted The Eyes____________________