Guston, Philip

Guston, Philip Biography

Born Philip Goldstein in Montreal, Canada, Guston moved with his Russian-Jewish emigre parents to Los Angeles, California in 1919. His father committed suicide in 1920. In 1927, Guston attended Manual Arts High School, together with American artist Jackson Pollock; both were expelled in 1928. Guston never returned, and his only other formal schooling was three months at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1930.

During World War II (1939-1945) Guston taught art at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. During his early artistic phase, which lasted from his youth in California until the late 1940s, he painted the human form in a style influenced by the abstract geometry of European. By the late 1940s Guston was turning increasingly to abstraction, and by the early 1950s he was a prominent figure-along with Pollock-in the so-called New York school of abstract expressionist painters. Abstractions such as Painting (1954) and The Clock (1956-1957), both in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, though quite different from each other, are typical of Guston's middle period. Both are marked by a concentration of short strokes of high-pitched colors, jumbled at the center of a field of lighter color.

In the late 1960s Philip Guston returned to figurative oil painting, developing a complex and highly personal iconography. His depictions of Cyclops-like heads, Ku Klux Klan members, and such everyday objects as shoes, bottles, and clocks are painted with deliberate crudity in harshly discordant colours.

Guston painted at a steady pace throughout the 1970s, producing artworks in which lone, sometimes hooded figures or disembodied heads, eyeballs, or feet typically lurk in apocalyptic junkyards scattered with clocks, bricks and other debris. Painting, Smoking, Eating (1973, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands), is a self-portrait showing Guston in his studio, which is piled with shoes and lit by a naked lightbulb. The dark subject matter in these works belies their cheerfully naive painting style.

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