Painting, Smoking, Eating (oil on canvas, 1972)
June 27, 1913
|Died||June 7, 1980
Woodstock, New York, USA
|Known for||Painting, printmaking|
|Movement||Abstract expressionism, social realism, figurative painting|
Philip Guston, born Phillip Goldstein (June 27, 1913 – June 7, 1980), was a painter and printmaker in the New York School, which included many of the abstract expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. In the late 1960s Guston helped to lead a transition from abstract expressionism to neo-expressionism in painting, abandoning the so-called "pure abstraction" of abstract expressionism in favor of more cartoonish renderings of various personal symbols and objects.
Childhood and education
Born in 1913 in Montreal, Guston moved with his family to Los Angeles as a child, his Ukrainian Jewish parents having escaped persecution when they moved from Odessa, Ukraine, to Canada. Guston and his family were aware of the regular Ku Klux Klan activities against Jews, blacks and others which took place across California during Guston's childhood. When Guston was 10 or 11, his father hanged himself in the shed, and the young Guston found the body. Guston began painting at the age of 14, and in 1927 he enrolled in the Los Angeles Manual Arts High School, where both he and Jackson Pollock studied under Frederick John de St. Vrain Schwankovsky and were introduced to modern European art, oriental philosophy, theosophy and mystic literature.
Guston's early work was figurative and representational. His mother supported his artistic inclinations, and he often made drawings in a small closet, lit by a hanging bulb. Apart from his high school education and a one-year scholarship at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, Guston remained a largely self-taught artist. During high school, Guston and Jackson Pollock published a paper opposing the high school's emphasis on sports over art. Their criticism led to both being expelled, but Pollock returned and graduated. At Otis on scholarship, Guston felt unfulfilled by the academic approach which limited him to drawing from plaster casts instead of the live model. Before dropping out of Otis, Guston spent a night in the studio making drawings of these figurative plasters scattered all over the studio floor.
Early career and influences
As an 18-year-old, politically aware painter, Guston made an indoor mural in L.A. (for the John Reed Club), depicting the Scottsboro Boys. This mural was defaced by local police officers, which affected Guston's political and social outlook.
In 1934, Guston, as Philip Goldstein, along with Reuben Kadish, joined the poet and friend Jules Langsner in a trip to Mexico, where they were given a 1,000-square-foot (93 m2) wall in the former summer palace of the Emperor Maximilian in the state capital of Morelia, where they produced the impressive The Struggle Against Terror, an antifascist mural clearly influenced by the work of David Siqueiros. A two-page review in Time magazine quoted Siqueiros describing them as "the most promising painters in either the US or Mexico". While in Mexico he also met and spent time with Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera.
In September 1935 he moved to New York where he worked as an artist in the WPA program. In 1937 he married an artist and poet he first met at Otis, Musa McKim. They collaborated on several WPA murals. During this period his work included strong references to Renaissance painters such as Paolo Uccello, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca and Giotto. He was also influenced by American Regionalists and Mexican mural painters. In 1938 he painted a post office mural in the US post office in Commerce, Georgia, entitled Early Mail Service and the Construction of Railroads.
A powerful and enduring influence, whom Guston was to acknowledge throughout his career, was Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico. Musa Mayer, Guston's daughter, recalled in her book Night Studio: A memoir of Philip Guston how the artist kept a De Chirico monograph in his studio, to which he would often refer.
Guston's first foray into teaching was as an artist-in-residence at the School of Art and Art History at the State University of Iowa (today the University of Iowa) from 1941 to 1945. There he completed a mural for the Social Security Building in Washington, D.C., turned to easel painting, and had his first solo exhibition in 1944. After this he was artist-in-residence at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri until 1947. He continued to teach at New York University and at the Pratt Institute. From 1973 to 1978 he conducted a once-monthly graduate seminar at Boston University. Guston's students include two graduates of the University of Iowa, painters Stephen Greene (1917–1999) and Fridtjof Schroder (1917–1990), and Ken Kerslake (1930–2007), who attended Pratt Institute. Those who attended his graduate seminars at Boston University include painter Gary Komarin (1951–) and new media artist Christina McPhee (1954–).
In the 1950s, Guston achieved success and renown as a first-generation abstract expressionist, although he preferred the term New York School. During this period his paintings often consisted of blocks and masses of gestural strokes and marks of color floating within the picture plane. These works, with marks often grouped toward the center of the compositions, recall the "plus and minus" compositions by Piet Mondrian or the late Nymphea canvases by Monet. Guston used a relatively limited palette favoring whites, blacks, greys and reds in these works. This palette remains evident in his later work.
Return to representational art
In 1967, Guston moved to Woodstock, New York. He was increasingly frustrated with abstraction and began painting representationally again, but in a rather personal, cartoonish manner. The first exhibition of these new figurative paintings was held in 1970 at the Marlborough Gallery in New York. It received scathing reviews from most of the art establishment (notably from the New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer, who, in an article entitled "A Mandarin Pretending to Be a Stumblebum", ridiculed Guston's new style). One of the few who instantly understood the importance of those paintings was the painter Willem de Kooning, who, at the time, said to Guston that they were "about freedom" (cited in Musa Mayer's biography of her father, Night Studio). Cherries III from 1976, in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art, exemplifies his late representational paintings. Although cherries are a mundane subjective, their spiky stems become a metaphor for the crudeness and brutality of modern life.
As a result of the poor reception of his new figurative paintings, Guston isolated himself even more in Woodstock, far from the art world which had so utterly misunderstood his art (see the initial reaction of Robert Hughes, critic for Time magazine, who later was to change his views, in a scathing review entitled "Ku Klux Komix", and Hilton Kramer's NY Times review). His contract with the Marlborough gallery was not renewed and, after a short period without any dealer, he joined the recently opened David McKee Gallery (he had known McKee at Marlborough) to which he remained faithful until the end of his life.
In 1960, at the peak of his activity as an abstractionist, Guston said: "There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth we inherit from abstract art. That painting is autonomous, pure and for itself, therefore we habitually analyze its ingredients and define its limits. But painting is 'impure'. It is the adjustment of 'impurities' which forces its continuity. We are image-makers and image-ridden". From 1968 onwards he made these words his motto. In this body of work he created a lexicon of images such as Klansmen, lightbulbs, shoes, cigarettes and clocks. In late 2009, the McKee gallery in NYC, Guston's historic dealer, mounted a show revealing that lexicon in 49 small oils on panel painted between 1969 and 1972 that had never been publicly displayed as a whole. Guston is best known for these late existential and lugubrious paintings, which at the time of his death had reached a wide audience, and found great popular acceptance. In 1980 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician. Guston died in 1980 in Woodstock, New York.
Guston's works are now held and exhibited in major museums worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Tate Modern. In May 2013, the sale of his 1958 abstract expressionist painting To Fellini, for $25.8 million, set the auction record for a Guston work. This coincides with the recent scholarly interest in exploring the periods he spent in Italy. The visual style of Guston's late works opened the door for many current trends in art. In late 2015, after the retirement of longtime Guston dealer David McKee, it was announced that the Estate of Philip Guston would now be represented by the Hauser & Wirth gallery. A catalogue raisonné of the artist's work is also currently being compiled by the recently formed Guston Foundation (gustonfoundation.org).
- Aaron Rosen, Imagining Jewish Art: Encounters with the Masters in Chagall, Guston, and Kitaj (MHRA, 2009; ISBN 1906540543), p. 50: "In the mid-1930s the artist began, off and on, to use the surname 'Guston' in place of his inherited name of 'Goldstein'".
- Brookman, Christopher from Grove Art online, http://www.moma.org/collection Accessed June 27, 2009
- Brookman, http://www.moma.org/collection Accessed June 27, 2009
- http://www.themorgan.org/about/press.GustonChronology.pdf Accessed June 27, 2009
- Smith, Roberta, "Stephen Greene, 82, 'Painter with Distinctive Abstract Style'" November 29, 1999, Obituaries, The New York Times
- Luther College Fine Art Collection, http://finearts.luther.edu/named_collections/schroder.html Accessed June 27, 2009
- Diehl, Carol, "Gary Komarin at Spanierman Gallery", May 2008, Art in America
- http://www.christinamcphee.net/about.html Accessed June 27, 2009
- Mayer, Musa, Night Studio (Da Capo Press, 1997), p. 157
- Honolulu Museum of Art, wall label, Cherries III by Philip Guston, 1976, oil on canvas, accession 7008.1
- Kramer, Hilton, "A Mandarin Pretending to Be a Stumblebum". New York Times, October 25, 1970, sec. B, p. 27.
- Honolulu Museum of Art, wall label, Cherries III by Philip Guston, 1976, oil on canvas, accession 7008.1
- Arnason, H. Harvard. Philip Guston. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1962.
- Auping, Michael. Philip Guston: Retrospective (Thames & Hudson, 2006). ISBN 0-500-28422-9
- Botelho, Manuel. Guston em contexto: até ao regresso da figura. Lisbon: Livros Vendaval, 2007. ISBN 978-972-8984-05-2
- Bucklow, Christopher. What is in the Dwat. The Universe of Guston's Final Decade (The Wordsworth Trust, 2007) ISBN 978-1-905256-21-1
- Burnett, Craig. Philip Guston: The Studio. (London and Cambridge, MA: Afterall Books / MIT Press, 2014)
- Coolidge, Clark. Baffling Means: Writings/Drawings (Stockbridge, MA: O-blek Editions, 1991).
- Corbett, William. Philip Guston’s Late Work: A Memoir (Cambridge, MA: Zoland Books, 1994)
- Feld, Ross. Guston in Time: Remembering Philip Guston (Counterpoint Press, 2003) ISBN 1-58243-284-8
- Mayer, Musa. Night Studio: A Memoir of Philip Guston (originally published: New York: Knopf, 1988; new edition: Da Capo Press, 1997) ISBN 0-306-80767-X
- Marika Herskovic, New York School Abstract Expressionists Artists Choice by Artists, (New York School Press, 2000.) ISBN 0-9677994-0-6. p. 18; p. 37; p. 170-173
- Marika Herskovic, American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s An Illustrated Survey, (New York School Press, 2003.) ISBN 0-9677994-1-4. p. 150-153
- Marika Herskovic, American Abstract and Figurative Expressionism Style Is Timely Art Is Timeless An Illustrated Survey With Artists' Statements, Artwork and Biographies. (New York School Press, 2009.) ISBN 978-0-9677994-2-1. p. 112-115; p. 136
- Dore Ashton, A Critical History of Philip Guston, 1976
- Yale University Art Gallery, Joanna Weber and Harry Cooper Philip Guston, a New Alphabet, the Late Transition, 2000, ISBN 0-89467-085-9
- Robert Storr, Guston, Abbeville Press, Modern Masters, ISBN 0-89659-665-6, 1986
- David Kaufmann, Telling Stories: Philip Guston's Later Works (University of California Press, 2010) ISBN 978-0-520-26576-9
- Peter Benson Miller, ed. Philip Guston, Roma ex. cat. with texts by Peter Benson Miller, Dore Ashton, Musa McKim and Michael Semff (Hatje Cantz, 2010) ISBN 978-3-7757-2632-0
- Peter Benson Miller, ed. Go Figure! New Perspectives on Guston, 2015 ISBN 9781590178782
- Michael Semff, 'An Unknown Lithograph from Philip Guston's Late Work,' Print Quarterly, XXVIII, 2011, 462-64
- 'Philip Guston: Prints', Catalogue Raisonné, Text by Michael Semff, English, Sieveking Verlag 2015, ISBN 978-3-944874-18-0
- 'Philip Guston: Drawings for Poets', Foreword by Michael Krüger, Text by Bill Berkson, English, Sieveking Verlag 2015, ISBN 978-3-944874-19-7
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