Creating an Artistic Language

Adolph Gottlieb, The Seer, 1950. Oil on canvas, 59 3/4 x 71 5/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1952. © Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

In 1941, in the aftermath of Paul Klee’s death and memorial retrospective organized by the Museum of Modern Art, Adolph Gottlieb produced a new, daring series, which eventually included over 500 works. He called these abstract inventions pictographs, or paintings filled with hieroglyphic-like forms. The Seer is one of the largest and last in the series. In a flat grid, Gottlieb juxtaposed abstract symbols conjured through free association with universal archetypes such as the arrow, circle, triangle, and ellipse in a manner reminiscent of Klee’s mature compositions.

During the 1940s, Gottlieb drew on Klee’s example in creating a unique artistic language that reconciled several opposing elements: line versus color, structure versus spontaneity, thought versus feeling, and stasis versus dynamism. According to Klee, these dualities mirror the primal conflict that has existed since the beginning of human existence. Gottlieb echoed the view, noting, “These opposites parallel our inner conflicts which are usually unresolved.”

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.

Tuesday Tunes: A Playlist for Bradley Walker Tomlin

Taking inspiration from the major theme of music in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee, we paired 11 staff members with 11 works from the exhibition and asked them to respond to create a playlist in response to their individual artwork. Kelley Daley, Head of Public Programming, created her playlist in response to Bradley Walker Tomlin’s “Number 12–1949.”

Bradley Walker Tomlin, Number 12–1949, 1949, Oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 31 1/4 in., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Gift of Abby and B. H. Friedman in honor of John I. H. Baur

When I first looked at Bradley Walker Tomlin’s Number 12, I was struck by the cheerful, spring-like, Nickelodeon-esque slime green in the background. It made me nostalgic, warm, and happy; however, after spending time with the painting, the dark shapes became more prominent and I felt sentimental and introspective. I noticed the drips on some of the shapes; the almost non-existent, left behind shapes and lines in the background; or the bright pop of color mixed in with the dark, bold shapes that didn’t make the painting seem so overwhelmingly sad. I was most inspired by the contradiction of bold black lines with the bright, hidden shapes in the background that created an oscillation between happiness, nostalgia, and sentimentality. From David Bowie to Childish Gambino, this playlist features tracks that have a pronounced, toe-tapping beat (inspired by the bold black shapes), that sometimes overshadows the sentimental tenderness in the lyrics or other instruments.

Kelley Daley, Head of Public Programming

Feeling inspired? Create your own playlist based around works in the exhibition and send it to us at and we may feature it on our blog and social media.

When Pollock Embraced Spontaneity

All works: Jackson Pollock, Untitled, 1944/45 (printed 1967). Engraving and drypoint in blown-black on white Italia wove paper. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. (1) and (2) The William Stamps Farish Fund, 2009; (3) Gift of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Inc., 2009

In 1930, Jackson Pollock confessed to his brother his frustration that his drawing was “rotten; it seems to lack freedom and rhy[thm].” That changed dramatically in 1944, when Pollock spent several months at Atelier 17, the printmaking workshop where he practiced the Paul Klee-inspired automatic writing taught by Stanley William Hayter. Hayter’s Atelier 17 was a central meeting place for avantgarde artists such as Pollock, William Baziotes, Adolph Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko.

These three works were printed from more than 10 plates that Pollock etched over several months at Hayter’s studio. Hayter, who had seen how the method of automatic drawing had invigorated French surrealist artists, saw the potential to convert more followers among the American abstract artists. He insisted that his acolytes etch directly into the zinc plates without any preparatory sketches and call upon their unconscious to generate line drawings. Hayter’s studio became a rite of passage for many Abstract Expressionists, although it had an especially profound impact on Pollock, who took from the experience an appreciation for spontaneous, nondescriptive line. The emphasis on the physical act of making art set the stage for Pollock’s breakthrough just a few years later to his drip paintings.

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.