painting, smoking, eating
Philip Guston’s pictography forms an intimate coded narrative. This style (for which he is known) only emerged late is his career and life and feel sincere and autobiographical. Guston’s appropriation of the style of underground comics is a crude confrontation between high and low art, which is now celebrated, but at the time was roundly lambasted. This style along with recurrence of specific detritus: piles of shoes, bare light bulbs, clocks, and cigarettes interweave to create a signature visual vernacular. They are as quintessentially his as the sinister hooded figures and confused masses of limbs, or his reductive color palate, limited to mostly red, pink, accentual yellows, and organized with thick black outlines, the painterly qualities unconcealed.
In cinema, diegesis refers to the narrative space of the expression of an inner world. In Guston’s later work this intimacy is communicated by expressing the excess of laden psychic significance imbued in everyday object. This depiction of personal mythology through charged objects is shared with De Chirico and is taken up by contemporary artists such as Louise Bourgeois and Sophie Calle. The style itself is appropriated, and expresses the irremovable taint of the visual world one see and experiences upon the visual world that one creates and depicts.
The paintings in this exhibition talk about this quarrying towards immobilisation. It should never be confused as an end for a painting, far from it. It is an opening-out into the possibilities of painting. Neither should it be mistaken for a closing down of the image. Good paintings are always at work and continue to be at work, as they never know their moment. This is the case whether they were painted two hundred years ago or yesterday. Robert Frost talks about it at work and the moment, in a literary form. Frost says that a poem should be like “ice on a stove – riding on its own melting”.
The painting that does this often locates itself between states, being surface and mirror and window and wall, never quite prioritising one above another. The painter if attentive will immediately recognise and see the experience and surface, as a likeness of the object and in so doing the object becomes a resistant image. As it is only then that the painting turns and has the ability to meet, disarm, transfix and immobilise the painter. It is the myth of the Gorgon and the painters in this exhibition know its stare and the tale intimately.
The artists in this exhibition know their object. They are aware of the histories, the debates and the challenges in making painting today. These artists are in it for the long haul; singularly independent but also marked by a collective distrust of the convenient and anything that would compromise their vision. The place of looking is the studio. It is work, a routine and what begins is a quarrying of the object. If you ask painters how the work begins, you will discover from the responses that there is no single unifying approach. There are always exceptions to the rule and this is perhaps one of the reasons why painting is such a resilient form.
In the quarrying of the image – there is always a movement towards this visual dialogue, where truths and lies are expelled between painter and painting. It is difficult to predict, document and know when and if it will happen. It should also never appear to be forced, although there may have been innumerable revisions and detours in getting there. There is no one way to the object. Sometimes the encounter comes from a suspicion or doubt that what has been set down previously does not communicate the ‘tone’ of the object. What is certain is that this encounter can only be revealed through looking intensely at what is present. Experience, tenacity, practicality and time all play their part towards this visualisation. It is only through their combined meeting that the image begins to ‘stick’ and offers a type of resistance. To recognise this encounter is to always live in the moment.
At the start of the 1950’s Guston became less interested in representational work and more interested in the possibilities of abstract expressionism. He attained success during this period as a first-generation abstract expressionist painter. His new paintings consisted of large gesturally worked masses of color contrasting with apposing masses and brushwork within the picture. However, as he continued to delve deeper into abstraction he found it less and less fulfilling.
Guston began art instruction at the Los Angeles Manual Arts High School in 1927 when he was 14. In class Guston met lifelong friend and contemporary Jackson Pollock.
The wall on which all the clay furniture is exhibited happens to be in close conjunction to a nearby painting “Painting, smoking, eating” by Phillip Guston. This neighbourship doesn’t seem to be random. Put in this corner of the space all these objects create a common vibe. The thick and handcrafted legs of the clay furniture resonate with the fat lines of the paint on Guston’s canvas. The furniture and the painting are so alike that you can easily imagine these chairs, the table and the shelf to origin from Guston’s painting which makes them highly connected. The painting is so much over-layered with paint that it produces the visual effect of the furniture almost dripping on the floor. Both furniture and painting have this tactility in them. You can see how thick and greasy the layers of the paint is, so you want to touch the legs to feel the softness of the clay.
It will be difficult to write about only one of these objects because they are placed so close to each other that I immediately thought of them as one composition.