Philip Guston Canadian-American, 1913-1980
Philip Guston was an iconic American painter whose works transitioned from Abstract Expressionism into an idiosyncratic lexicon of painterly forms and a cartoonish figures. “The painting is not on a surface, but on a plane which is imagined,” he once reflected. “It moves in a mind. It is not there physically at all. It is an illusion, a piece of magic, so that what you see is not what you see.”
Born Philip Goldstein on June 27, 1913 in Montreal, Canada to Ukranian-Jewish immigrant parents, he grew up in California, where he attended the Los Angeles Manual Arts High School with Jackson Pollock. Moving to New York, Guston was enrolled in the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s, where he produced works inspired by the Mexican Muralists and Italian Renaissance paintings. He went on to become an integral part of the city’s art scene in the 1950s, alongside Willem de Kooning and his former classmate Pollock. Guston famously abandoned the success and dialogue he had with abstraction in the late 1960s, resulting in the loss of his gallery representation and virulent scorn from critics.
However, it is the artist’s late work that has proven to be his most lasting contribution to art history. Featuring recurring imagery such as hooded Klansmen, Richard Nixon, smoldering cigarettes, and huge eyeballs, works such as In the Studio (1975), influenced generations of painters and established Guston in the canon of 20th-century art. He died on June 7, 1980 in Woodstock, NY. Today, the artist's works can be found in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Tate Gallery in London, among others.