Philip Guston

Biography of Philip Guston

Born in 1913, Philip Guston's fascinating career is marked by a number of twists and turns. A painter of murals during the 1930s, Guston's brand of social realism was heavily influenced by the compositions of Renaissance masters as well as Cubism's treatment of space. On moving to New York in the late 40s, the artist turned to easel painting and Abstract Expressionism, employing a restrained palette of whites, blacks, and reds in his depictions of abstract cloud-like forms floating in space. Yet after making a name for himself as an Abstract Expressionist, Guston gradually became increasingly frustrated with abstraction and its connotations, stating in 1960 that "There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth we inherit from abstract art. That painting is autonomous, pure and for itself ... But painting is impure."


It was at this point that Philip Guston returned to his roots as a figurative artist and started to produce work littered with cigarette butts, tin cans, and cartoon Klansmen, rendered in a style that was key to the development of cartoon realism and Neo-expressionism. Both his paintings and editioned prints and multiples lay bare these "impure" impulses and manifests them in the putrid and nitty gritty; liquor spills from tipped over bottles, hairs and warts sprout from bizarrely shaped heads and limbs, together it forms a radical reassessment of the role of art. Frequently set in urban environments and featuring flesh-colored cyclopses, Guston's pioneering and mature work ranges from the humorous to the ominous, utterly unique in its pictorial style so reminiscent of comic strips.


Philip Guston's work can be found in the collections of such internationally renowned museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, and Tate Modern. The artist participated in the Venice Biennale in 1960 and received a major retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 1962 that subsequently travelled to Whitechapel Gallery, London, the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, amongst others. Guston died in 1980.

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