Academy of Arts - THE
ART OF PHILIP GUSTON
ART OF PHILIP GUSTON: 1913–1980 MAIN GALLERIES
The RA presents a major survey of the renowned American painter, Philip Guston, and the first comprehensive retrospective of his work to be held in the UK. Philip Guston (1913–1980) had been a leading exponent of Abstract Expressionism for almost two decades when he boldly returned to figurative work in the late 1960s. His uncompromising late paintings, which shocked the art world and baffled his admirers, ultimately inspired later generations of artists, and invigorated American painting in the 1970s and 1980s. The exhibition brings together some 80 works and includes rarely seen paintings and drawings from the artist’s estate and the private collection of his daughter.
Philip Guston was born in Canada of Russian-Jewish émigré parents in 1913 and moved to California in 1919. He began to paint and draw in 1927, the same year he met Jackson Pollock at High School. He continued his studies at art college in Los Angeles, during which time he became an accomplished draughtsman through the meticulous study of both Old Master and more contemporary artists. In late 1935, encouraged by Pollock, Guston moved to New York where he became involved in the government sponsored mural painting projects with Stuart Davis and Willem de Kooning. In the 1930s and 1940s Guston concentrated on figurative work, but in the 1950s he began to paint non-objective canvases, creating abstract works as compelling as those of his contemporaries, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline.
Beginning with the early figurative works, which reflect Guston’s wide ranging pictorial influences, including Piero della Francesca, Giorgio de Chirico and Pablo Picasso, the exhibition includes a significant transitional painting, The Tormentors (1947-8), showing the artist’s entry into Abstract Expressionism. A major group of Guston’s acclaimed pure abstractions from the 1950s and 1960s are also highlighted. Critically acclaimed when first exhibited, these works have rarely been seen since.
In the late 1960s Guston confounded the New York art world by returning to figurative content, prompted by his reaction to civil rights prejudice, opposition to the Vietnam War and violence at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago. New paintings of cartoon-like simplicity, symbolically employing hooded figures of the Ku Klux Klan, were first shown in the highly controversial exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, New York in 1970. Thereafter the work evolved in a series of situations, graphic portraits - including Richard Nixon - and also self-portraits. These examined the ominous threat to society from official violence, political terror, and the tragic plight of its victims, reflecting Guston’s ever increasing disaffection with society. The retrospective culminates in an extensive showing of late works, including a group from the 1970 exhibition. These paintings were of great importance to subsequent generations of painters including neo-figurative artists such as Georg Baselitz, Julian Schnabel and Susan Rothenberg. Guston died in Woodstock, New York in 1980. His example remains a powerful influence on younger figurative artists working today.
In 1981, the year following his death, four paintings by Philip Guston were exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in A New Spirit in Painting, curated by Norman Rosenthal, Christos M. Joachimides and Nicholas Serota.
The Art of Philip Guston has been on tour in the US, where it was shown at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Royal Academy of Arts is the only European venue.
GUSTON: ODD MAN OUT – BBC4
The programme will be broadcast on BBC4 on Wednesday 28 January at 8.30pm and 12.50am and repeated on BBC4 on Saturday 31 January at 10.30pm. Viewing copies of the film will be available on Tuesday 27 January. Please contact Kirsty Reid, BBC Arts tel: 020 8752 6010.
Academy of Arts