“Painters have always talked and some…..wrote.”
Dore Ashton’s description of Guston is beautifully written with examples such as, “Guston’s sometimes arcane utterances” and “his wondrous bursts of language when he felt inspired, his sometimes playful contrariness, his satisfaction in being a provocateur, and his consistent preoccupation with serious aesthetic questions throughout his working life as a painter.”
Guston studied Dostoyevsky and Kafka and was an autodidact, rebel, and burgeoning artist. After dropping out of the Cleveland School of Cartooning after learning about crosshatching, he joined high school with Jackson Pollock, who sought out a teacher more interested in the “higher arts”. Guston eventually was expelled from high school, however, he won a year’s scholarship to the Otis Art Institute, which he dropped out of as well. He fluttered around menial jobs until Guston turned his work into a study of Mexican muralists and his study of Renaissance paintings.
“The act of painting is like a trial where all the roles are lived by one person.”
“The canvas is a court where the artist is prosecutor, defendant, jury, and judge.”
During the 1950s and 1960s there was a web of painters and composers and were stirring up a cultural situation of mutual aid. This unusual mixture of creative souls led to artists creating new schools, such as in the case of Mercedes Matter. Her school was pure, uncorrupted by grades and degrees.
“When you start working, everybody is your studio – the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all your own ideas - all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then if you’re lucky, even you leave.”
Guston favored original sources of modernism, including Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, and T.S. Eliot.
“Be modern at all costs.”
According to Dore Ashton, Philip Guston thought more about precursors in painting who had expressed pessimism in their work, Goya above all. Guston was also impressed with Goya’s so-called black paintings in the Prodo.
“The monstrosity of humanity, the distortion of their faces, and the way he piled them all up in these pyramids, in these hills, these big black shapes and threatening clouds.”
Guston also focused his attention on Rembrandt, especially the use of impasto.
“There’s an ambiguity of paint being image and image being paint which is very mysterious.”
“What he’s done is to eliminate any plane, anything between that image and you.”
“I know there’s an existence on this imaginary plane which holds almost all the fascination of painting for me. As a matter of fact, I think the true image only comes out when it exists on this imaginary plane.
“Most great paintings have this duality between the forms of the surface and the forms in depth.”
Guston always responded to modern artists who were the origin of planar painting, specifically Mondrian, because like Mondrian, Guston was engaged with certain propositions that considered the cosmic aspect of painting or the quest for an imaginary wholeness. Guston was able to recognize Mondrian’s pictorial prowess as passion, which Guston possessed just as intensely.
In his Woodstock studio, Guston experimented with drawing and painting grotesques, recognizable things, shoes, cars, junk (which he referred to as “crappola”). Occasionally he represented single images such as a light bulb or an open book., or more controversially, members from the Ku Klux Klan riding in comic-strip cars.
In the 1970s, he showed new paintings and drawings and Guston took back the prerogative of past painters and openly declared his will to be a storyteller, or better, a movie director. Guston never forgot his urgent need to question the act of painting and what might be called a philosophical inquiry into its origins, declaring art is magic in more rhapsodic commentaries.
“We’re not supposed to meddle with the forces – God takes care of that.”
“Thank God for yellow ochre, cadmium red medium, and permanent green light.”
“What is seen and called the picture is what remains – an evidence. Even as one travels in painting towards a state of “unfreedom” where only certain things can happen, unaccountably the unknown and free must appear.”
“The very matter of painting – its pigment and spaces – is so resistant to the will, so disinclined to assert its plane and remain still.
“When I work, I am not concerned with making pictures, or with what the work will look like, but only with the process of creation.”
“Actually, a painting is exactly parallel to life. I mean, you know when you’re really making love and when you’re not really making love, or any emotional involvement. Did you ever listen to someone talk on a platform or in conversation when you knew he was only telling you a store and your mind wandered? But when you always really listen is when they are not hearing themselves tell the tory. Well that’s creation. That’s all its about.”