A pictograph is a kind of visual morpheme (like a hieroglyph), at once diagrammatic, imagistic, and “graphic.” In the paintings of Adolph Gottlieb, pictographs range from geometric squiggles to letters to schematic body parts, each a sort of two- dimensional “poetic object” that he lines up like an object in a cabinet of curiosities. There is a sense of controlled clutter, as the structure of the grid is used to impose a semblance of order on a chaos of emotions. The works are small, which adds to their intimate feel, and the forms are invariably symbolic, although they also stand on their own as intriguing shapes. Some paintings are brushier than others: One can’t help but wonder whether those made in the late ’40s were influenced by art informale. They also have an increasingly graffiti-like look, suggesting the influence of Jean Dubuffet and art brut.
While Gottlieb’s first pictographic
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