Philip Guston: Painting Revealed

By Carlo D’Anselmi, MFA 2015

 

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Untitled, 1962, Oil on canvas, 167.64 x 185.42 cm / 66 x 73 in, Photo Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

Striking unease, ponderous reflection of self, and an acute consciousness of two indelible aspects of painting haunt the works at Hauser & Wirth (Philip Guston: Painter 1957-1967). These works are brilliant pieces from the journey of Philip Guston, a man simultaneously amazed with and anguished by the act of painting.

These particular paintings were made at a time after Guston’s career had already taken flight alongside his fellow New York City abstract expressionists. His unease at the loss of figurative imagery in the painting at that time with which he had so much success eventually led his own work down deeply conflicted avenues. This conflict is the crux of the group at Hauser & Wirth. 

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Portrait I, 1965, Oil on canvas 173.7 x 198.1 cm / 68 3/8 x 78 in, Photo courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

The show gives a fantastic sense of the thought process in the paintings from room to room. The more colorful, perhaps flatter paintings of the late fifties spar with a starker patchwork palette, to forms more interloping and bodily in the early sixties. By 1965, as the show moves further, Guston’s paintings have changed massively. The scale is bigger, though the paintings fit easily in Hauser & Wirth’s generous space. In the paintings, masses loom out of the hazy blacks and greys, suggesting heads, ghosts, smoke, rocks, primordial clay. Figuration seems to be writhing out of his process itself, bound up in the paint: lost, found, and lost again. Suppressed hints of his earlier colors hide dramatically behind overwhelming, muscular, sensitive, dark.  

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Untitled, 1967, Brush and ink on paper, 46 x 58.7 cm / 18 1/8 x 23 1/8 in, Photo courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

The drawings, which Guston made between 1966 and 1967, are hung at the back wall of the gallery. These, made during the years before he began his late figurative paintings, are his next step after the paintings in the show. These are simple yet profound marks in ink and charcoal. Repetitions, suggestions, allusions; a hint of what would be next in his career. 

 The show at Hauser & Wirth is a must see, and is up until July 29th. The sheer amount of work is fantastic, combining gracefully to reveal moments in the life of one of the greatest painters in the twentieth century. It is an endless revelation.

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Vessel, 1960, Oil on panel, 76.5 x 55.6 cm / 30 1/8 x 21 7/8 in, Photo courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

 

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Alchemist, 1960 Oil on canvas 154.9 x 171 cm / 61 x 67 3/8 inches Photo courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

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