NARRATOR: Everywhere in this painting by Adolph Gottlieb strange eyes are staring out at you. Some are large, some small, some are just dots which might be eyes. Like markings on the wall of a prehistoric cave, they are ambiguous, powerful, and disturbing.
The canvas is divided into four rectangular panels. Look at the second one from the left. It appears as an archaic human figure—head at the top, body and feet at the bottom. Now look at the panel all the way to the right. Notice the thick line that circles down from the top. It’s reminiscent of a river, a path, or even a snake.
Like other artists of the 1940s, Gottlieb turned his back on realism. Yet he chose not to paint pure abstractions. He found inspiration in African tribal art and the ancient pictographs of Native Americans. Primitive art, he said, was in touch with the subconscious. Moreover, he felt that a mood of dread and mystery suited the dark years of World War II. He once said: “Today when our aspirations have been reduced to a desperate attempt to escape from evil, and times are out of joint, our obsessive, subterranean and pictographic images are the expression of the neurosis which is our reality.”