Emerging Artist | Adrian Gottlieb

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

At 34, Adrian Gottlieb is considered a rising young star in the art world. But to many observers, he might equally be described as a young painter possessing an old master’s soul. Gottlieb’s treatment of the figure and his chiaroscuro mastery are reminiscent in style of paintings from centuries ago.

To his growing resume and reputation, Gottlieb has added a Best of Show and a second-place award in the past several years at the prestigious Portrait Society of America’s annual competition. Last November the Los Angeles-based artist was invited to participate in the annual Great American Figurative Exhibition at Waterhouse Gallery in Santa Barbara, CA, where his paintings hung alongside those by far more established artists.

Born and raised in Vermont, Gottlieb says he once went though a brief phase of wanting to be a doctor, but other than that, art has been his career of choice for as long as he can remember. By the time he was 15, he had exhibited work at the state capitol in Montpelier. Before he graduated from high school, one of his paintings depicting the Abenaki Indian Tribal Council was purchased by the University of Vermont for its permanent collection.

For college, the art prodigy first enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. However, Gottlieb soon found that the art program didn’t meet his creative needs. He says he yearned to study hands-on the methods and techniques of the great 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century masters that had largely been rejected by 20th-century art educators at American universities.

To pursue his passion, he eventually journeyed to Florence, Italy, where he began a course of study with Charles Cecil, who exposed him to lost drawing and painting techniques from the Renaissance. In the meantime, Gottlieb had also transferred to, and was earning credits through, the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, from which he eventually graduated with a degree in illustration in 1998. Still not satisfied with his formal education, he enrolled in an intensive drawing program at the Florence Academy of Art, which he completed in 2001.

Today Gottlieb paints in all genres, but he admits that no subject speaks to him in the same intimate way as the figure. “My still-life paintings are more static,” he explains. “I have a much stronger dialogue with the human figure. For me, figurative work is dynamic.”

Not surprisingly, Gottlieb prefers working from life when painting his favorite subject. “With photographs there is only so far you can go as an artist,” he says. “There is only so far you can come to know the subject. With a model, your understanding increases, becomes deeper and more significant over time.”

Gottlieb says it is not unusual for him to call a model back to perfect the minute details of a composition, even after he thinks he has finished the piece. “It can be to get the right mood, effect, or expression,” he explains. “It can be to get the sense of a foot being planted on the ground or the sense of a bent joint.”

Recently Gottlieb’s works have taken on a new direction. He describes a seminal moment last fall when something inside him “snapped,” he says. “I’m at a point where I don’t want to do dark paintings anymore. I’m wanting to do bright, playful, colorful works. I want to balance out the tenebrose [dark or gloomy] paintings.”

Nonetheless, whether his paintings are gloomy or playful, Gottlieb still plans to convey, as he puts it, “a sense of beauty and grace and visual impact. I don’t think that will ever go away or change.”

Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA; www.adriangottlieb.com.

Featured in April 2010