This is the second part of a two-part post looking at the work and career of painter Philip Guston. For biographical notes and work produced during his abstract expressionist period, see part 1 below.
Around 1967 when Guston moved to Woodstock, New York his work underwent a shocking and radical change. Departing from the earlier lyrical and colourful abstract pieces he moved towards a more figurative approach. He somewhat shocked the art establishment by making reference to comic book style, something he had always been a fan of, particularly the Krazy Kat work of cartoonist George Herriman.
|George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat'|
|Philip Guston's 'Edge of Town' 1969|
He began working in this style at the time of the emergence of the new adult ‘underground’ comics, the leading exponent of which was Robert Crumb, whose work clearly had some influence on Guston. It is thought that Guston’s 1977 piece ‘Cabal’ paid direct homage to Crumb’s work.
|Philip Guston's 'Room' 1976 oil on canvas|
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 – New York Times critic Hilton Kramer wrote "A Mandarin pretending to be a Stumblebum.”
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 where he showed until the end of his life. When criticized widely about the impurity of these later paintings, he responded, "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. There are no wiggly or straight lines..." 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 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. Guston died in 1980 in Woodstock, New York.
|1969 City Limits oil on canvas|
|1969 Outskirts oil on canvas|
|1969 The Studio oil on canvas|
|1970 A Day's Work oil on canvas|
|1970 Courtroom oil on canvas|
|1970 Daydreams oil on canvas|
|1973 Painting, Smoking, Eating oil on canvas|
|1975 Deluge II oil on canvas|
|1975 Midnight Pass Road oil on canvas|
|1976 Ancient Wall oil on canvas|
|1976 Green Rug oil on canvas|
|1976 The Pit oil on canvas|
|1977 Back View oil on canvas|
|1977 Cabal oil on canvas|
|1977 Curtain oil on canvas|
|1977 Sleeping oil on canvas|
|1978 As it Goes oil on canvas|
|1979 Entrance oil on canvas|
|1979 Talking oil on canvas|