Adolph Gottlieb, Nightglow

26 Nov

As always, I urge you to look up Adolph Gottlieb’s Nightglow on google because I don’t have the rights to it, and I also think you’ll get a better view of it than whatever crummy little icon I can make.

A grey background.  A red circle in a white circle.  A black splotch.  Oh it’s very hard for me to not think of people that I’ve heard say “my kid could do that!”  One reason to like art is because of a certain amount of difficulty it requires, but that’s such a limited view, yes maybe a child could paint all these elements (maybe) but they wouldn’t have come up with the idea.

Gottlieb painted a whole series of circles over jumbled letters, and later splotches.   Here the circle and splotch seem to be opposites.  The splotch comes out from a circular hole about it and seems to be darkness itself, while the circle does seem to glow up in the “sky” of the painting.  I notice how the grey has reverberating trails in it, seeming to be connecting and separating the two shapes at once.  The funny think is that it’s really difficult to look at the whole painting at once–the eyes want to jump from circle to splotch to circle again, ping-ponging back and forth, yet at the same time I can’t look at one item without noticing the other in the periphery.

And when I think of nightglow, I think of that big red and white circle, which reminds me of a very red full moon, and the darkness pouring out, and how the two things require each other to create such an experience.  The moon in daylight is usually invisible, and you can’t see darkness without some light.  It’s sort of a ying/yang thing–each depending on the other to create something.

The opposites continue–one seems to be spreading, the other seems contained, one has little pieces, the other is a unified whole.  One is all black, the other is white and red.  One is on top and the other is on the bottom.  Yet they are perfectly balanced–there’s a centered feel to this painting, an elegantly simple system where the slightest change would throw it off.

Yet, because it is called Nightglow, and because the grey background seems less than completely stable, this painting indicates a temporary balance–like a frame in a movie that is picturesque until movement ruins it.  Sooner or later these elements will alter, maybe interestingly, maybe not, but this sort of balance is uniquely captured here–this sort of order only lasts so long.   Also it’s not, in this instance, very mathematical–you couldn’t say that 1 splotch equals two circles or something like that, it’s an intuitive arrangement that might not work even if it was copied exactly.

By showing a completely balanced painting, Albert Gottleib illustrates the tenuous nature of balance, and how differences create a unified impression.  Certainly no child could have thought all that up.

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