Friday, 26 June 2015

Philip Guston - Timothy Taylor

Philip Guston, Head and Bottle, 1975
Philip Guston is at Timothy Taylor until 11 July 2015.
What an extraordinary painter Philip Guston was. Born in 1913 he was of the same generation as Jackson Pollock - in fact he and Pollock became friends when they studied at the same college in the late 1920s - and, like Pollock, Guston became a successful and respected Abstract Expressionist in the 1950s. Yet in the 1960s he abandoned abstraction in favour of figuration, deploying a completely original, seemingly crude, cartoon-like iconography of clocks, bottles, shoes, light bulbs, books and paint brushes, and a one-eyed, disembodied head - taken to represent the artist himself. It is hard now to appreciate what a brave, even outrageous, move this was - Peter Schjeldahl writing in 1984 recalled his own response: "I hated it. It seemed a rank indecency, a profanation, a joke in the worst conceivable taste". As he further recounts, gradually "my resistance disintegrated, and the very paintings I had abhorred started giving me surges of pleasure ." Guston is a 'painter's painter' - the eyes of those  to whom I mentioned this show lit up when they heard his name; Schjeldahl, again: "The paint-handling is beautiful, with a beauty that in the comfortless context [of the iconography] is heartbreaking." Guston eventually became a key influence on a generation of 'neo-expressionists' emerging in the 1980s.
This small show brings together some wonderful paintings, including a late abstraction - Traveler III, and some very fine examples of his 'neo-expressionist' work from 1969 up to 1979 (Guston died in 1980) and a selection of ink and charcoal drawings.
Read reviews by Adrian Searle and Fisun Güner.
(Peter Schjeldahl quotes are from his essay on Guston in "Art of Our Time: The Saatchi Collection", vol.3, London: Lund Humphries (1984), pp12-13)
Philip Guston, Traveler III, 1959-60
Philip Guston, The Hill, 1971
Philip Guston, Frame, 1976
Philip Guston, Story, 1978
Installation view of drawings and small works by Philip Guston at Timothy Taylor

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