With tremendous graphic power and elemental force, Mood exemplifies Gottlieb’s unique brand of mark-making, in which he juxtaposes two fundamental elements—the glowing orb and the eponymous “burst”—and unmoors them upon a monochromatic flattened space. Esteemed critic Brian O’Doherty described the development of Gottlieb’s signature language thus: “His motif has orbited into electrifying new fields of color, the horizon dropping away completely, the globes, usually single, now taking on a new radiance, raised with an almost palpable transgression of gravity as they dip and swim steadfastly over the explosive calligraphs below—writhing, kinking, hooked, twisted, contracted, precisely exploded—all the verbs are active in this extraordinary visual grammar” (in “Adolph Gottlieb: The Dualism of an Inner Life,” The New York Times, 23 February 1964, p. 17). Here, soft washes of sorrel and cinnamon provide an ideal velvety ground for the electric tension between the gestural, explosive roseate splatter and the serene resolution of the suspended auburn sphere. By engaging these two polar bodies in contentious opposition, Gottlieb creates a composition that crackles with the scintillating possibility of sudden collapse.
Mood revels in the infinite dichotomies of its structure: the opposition of stasis and motion, color and shadow, form and stroke, celestial and subterranean. The dramatic mass of luminous pink strokes is painted in an emotive, painterly manner reminiscent of the gestural expressionism of Jackson Pollock or Franz Kline. In contrast, the sublime color and soft, burnished amber of the lofty orb calls to mind the Color Field paintings of Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko. While the two schools are often seen as mutually exclusive, Gottlieb combines them with a masterful grasp of multifaceted abstraction, skillfully playing them against each other to enhance the texture of the work. The artist’s practice was also inspired by contemporaneous influences outside the artistic sphere. In the devastating aftermath of World War II and the gnawing threat of nuclear disaster throughout the Cold War, the Burst paintings and their conflicting images represented a powerful expression of the constant tension between West and East, peace and war, hope and fear, existence and destruction—elemental dichotomies placed into dynamic synchronicity within a single frame.
The Burst paintings mark the fulfillment of Gottlieb’s desire to resolve the eternal conflict of life’s infinite oppositions through the achievement of an artistic language that was at once infinitely universal and deeply personal. Like Barnett Newman with his "zip," and Rothko with his floating bands, Gottlieb perfected his "burst," a crucial declaration of his artistic legacy. In powerful, elemental forms, he articulates the tension inherent to the natural world, uniting the binary poles of Abstract Expressionism in a single, balanced synthesis. Pulsating with visual and psychic electricity that emits a hypnotic lure, Mood represents the apotheosis of Gottlieb’s career-long pursuit of this goal.
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