oil on Masonite
30 x 24 inches (76.2 x 60.96 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Shapiro
From 1939 to 1945, the years of World War II, a group of European Surrealist painters sought refuge in New York City, where their ideas influenced many artists and writers, including Adolph Gottlieb. In 1951 Gottlieb commented on the paintings that he and fellow artist Arshile Gorky created in the 1940s, writing: “The vital task was a wedding of abstraction and surrealism. Out of these opposites something new would emerge.”
Like many of his contemporaries, Gottlieb believed that the writings of psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung provided a pathway toward a universal language of signs and symbols, which artists like him could make into art. After rejecting the realist style used by many American artists during the Depression, in 1941 Gottlieb began a series of pictograph paintings. Watching belongs to this series. The works are based on a geometric grid of straight lines, a form introduced to New York by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. They demonstrate Gottlieb’s fascination with form and subject matter chosen from nature, the subconscious, myth, and non-European art. The abstracted forms and symbols that he used in the paintings reflect his interest in the early cultures of North America and the ancient Near East.