Monday, June 6, 2016


Since the mid-1960's I have had a special place in my heart for Philip Guston, even though I had not yet, ever heard of him or seen his paintings. He was a juror who awarded me a drawing fellowship at The Art Student's League, a much needed financial and ego boost.
Shortly thereafter - in 1970 I was sitting in my studio in Albuquerque, NM and was startled to read one of the worst attacks on an artist that I had ever seen - a review of Philip Guston's new body of work in The NY Times by the art critic Hilton Kramer titled “A Mandarin Pretending to be a Stumblebum.” I was confused since I really liked what I saw in the new work - it had a power that was direct, with the simplicity of a cartoon catapulted into raw and fresh invention screaming injustice and personal pain.

The exhibition at Hauser & Wirth of Guston's early 1967-67 paintings brought me back in time. This exhibition focuses on the early artworks - the abstract gestural, piling up of paint, forms hovering in the center of the canvas - never going beyond the edges - gestures not allowed to breathe despite the frenetic brushwork, but rather caged in by the framing white of the canvas. They felt old and musty - I could almost smell the mildew. It might have been the lighting which was dimmed, but I believe it was the work itself - these early pieces seemed relegated to the dustbin of history brought out to give us historical context for the great works which were to come. As we moved into the other rooms, all chronological - we could sense the difference. Grays and pinks and black appear - still floating but a change was a coming.

And then in the last room, I saw the drawings lined up in a row as they were originally seen in Guston's studio - done after the "bad" review when he went off and did what he called "pure drawing." They were a revelation - the link between the what was, and what was to become - and they were terrific. I am a sucker for evidence of the "flesh" under the shell, and his awkward line allowed me entrance into his primordial self.

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