Philip Guston: The Studio (AFTERALL)

Philip Guston: The Studio (AFTERALL)

Craig Burnett

Language: English

Pages: 120


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Throughout his career, Philip Guston's work metamorphosed from figural to abstract and back to figural. In the 1950s, Guston (1913--1980) produced a body of shimmering abstract paintings that made him -- along with Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Franz Kline -- an influential abstract expressionist of the "gestural" tendency. In the late 1960s, with works like The Studio came his most radical shift. Drawing from the imagery of his early murals and from elements in his later drawings, ignoring the prevailing "coolness" of Minimalism and antiform abstraction, Guston invented for these late works a cast of cartoon-like characters to articulate a vision that was at once comic, crude, and complex. In The Studio, Guston offers a darkly comic portrait of the artist as a hooded Ku Klux Klansman, painting a self-portrait. In this concise and generously illustrated book, Craig Burnett examines The Studio in detail. He describes the historical and personal motivations for Guston's return to figuration and the (mostly negative) critical reaction to the work from Hilton Kramer and others. He looks closely at the structure of The Studio, and at the influence of Piero della Francesca, Manet, and Krazy Kat, among others; and he considers the importance of the column of smoke in the painting -- as a compositional device and as a ghost of abstraction and metaphysics. The Studio signals not only Guston's own artistic evolution but a broader shift, from the medium-centric and teleological claim of modernism to the discursive, carnivalesque, and mucky world of postmodernism.

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picked up in the painting-within-the-painting: three dashes of red along the bottom of the canvas. Like the phonemes in Hopkins’s poem, these marks are of almost identical size and value, yet the meanings of both have been transformed by the context. What about the similar splotches of red along the bottom (or shoulder?) of the hood’s white sheet? Are they meant to be blood marks from a day of thuggery? Paint from his brush? Isolated, they are totally irresolvable. Compare this to the red in Bad

painting. You are then asked to consider the mystery of the puff of smoke at the centre. First an image; then a painting; and then it is as if the whole apparatus of the picture exists to frame the puff, to give this patch of formlessness some kind of allegorical import. Without the smoke The Studio becomes a straight-up comic – half as witty, half as philosophical. Smoke provides the binding force of The Studio, both its sensual arabesque and its metaphysical punchline. While Guston likely had

Railway, the eyes and the smoke are ‘threatening each other or kissing or moving into each other’. In Guston’s aesthetic debate, the eyes play the part of geometrical abstraction; they are, admittedly, rough and scruffy rectangles, scarcely in the same league as the geometrical perfection of Donald Judd, yet they read like the repeated, inorganic forms of serialism and minimalism. The smoke, of course, steps up to represent the side of organic form. What problems and what boasts would each

documenter of human conflict and a model painter. Peter Schjeldahl, who ‘hated’ the 1970 show’s paintings, has since called him ‘a prophet and pioneer’,12 while in 2003 Michael Kimmelman wrote that ‘it is an exaggeration, but not a big one, to say they [the late paintings] have had a cultish influence almost akin to that Cézanne had on young painters a century ago’.13 Arthur Danto has crowned Guston ‘the true hero of the post-historical artist’.14 And it is in The Studio, above all other works,

(c.1930, fig.17), and in one of the last works of his first period of figuration, The Tormentors (1947–48, fig.20). Yet Guston’s use of the hoods also reflects his renewed ambition as of the late 1960s, his desire to find an image to help him tell his story as an artist. He took up the hoods not only as an American and personal historical reference, but as an art-historical in-joke, a way to insert himself into and reimagine the grand tradition of figurative painting by his favourite artists,

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