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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wasn’t alone in his habit. The artist as brooding smoker was a commonplace trope throughout the 1950s and 60s. In Hans Namuth’s portraits of Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko (1964), Barnett Newman (1952) and Franz Kline (1964), for instance, the artists all smoke, or hold a cigarette.82 In repeatedly depicting smoke in his paintings, Guston brought out its metaphorical and art-historical richness. Adriaen Brouwer delighted in the expressive power of smoke when he painted The Smokers (c.1636,

character present to each other? The eyes look upon the smoke and say: I am structure and form, purity and order. And the smoke replies: You can’t keep your eyes off me because I am the churning, ineffable flux at the heart of existence. The The Studio | 39 eyes say: Precisely correct. You are a spectre, and you will float away as soon as someone opens a window. I, on the other hand, stand for permanence and order. The smoke responds: My evanescence is the revenge of entropy upon a pretentious

Ashton’s A Critical Study of Philip Guston (1990), but I acknowledge that Weber was there first, along with Ashton and Mayer, from whose tips she presumably took her lead. Ross Feld has also touched on the importance of Kierkegaard for Guston, Guston in Time: Remembering Philip Guston, op. cit. 36 ‘Interview with Karl Fortess (1966)’, Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations, op. cit., p.75. 37 D. Ashton, A Critical Study of Philip Guston, op. cit., p.123, available at

‘Philip Guston’s Object: Conversation with Harold Rosenberg (1965)’, Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations, op. cit., pp.51–52. 60 James Elkins’s chapter ‘The Studio as a Kind of Psychosis’ in What Painting Is presents a vivid argument about the traditional relationship between painting and alchemy, and concludes that paints are bodily fluids and the studio a metaphor for the body. ‘For painters the studio is the Prison House, and paints are the fluids that circulate

The painting depicts a form, a looming black head caught in the act of recognising and transforming itself. Although pleasingly irresolvable as an image – with its sooty golem gazing into his shrunken reflection – Mirror – to S.K. has the same inward intensity as The Studio, the same paradoxical mood of a consciousness conjuring its own image: an oozing black form emerging from a smudge of paint, or a hood creating another hood in an act of self-generating mimesis. Mirror – to S.K. is a

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