The body of work by Philip Guston (Montreal, Canada, 1913 - New York, USA, 1980) is on display in Europe for the first time, although his later work was previously exhibited in Whitechapel in London. Following the initial waves of surrealist and metaphysical language, Guston becomes one of the preeminent figures of Abstract Expressionism in the Fifties.
In contrast to Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Guston comes from a figurative painting tradition which openly displays its admiration for past masters such as Piero della Francesca, Paolo Ucello and Francisco de Goya. In the Sixties his style radically changes since at the end of the decade he reunites with figurative language, this time around developing a very personal style that he maintains until his death.
This anthological exhibition displays seventy works by the painter that span from 1930 to 1979, starting with his figurative beginnings represented in Mother and Child (1930), a circular canvas entitled Bombardment (1937-38), the colour exhibition Gladiators (1938), the emotive Martial Memory (1941) and two paintings from 1945, If This Be Not I and Porch nº 1.
The progressive tendency towards abstraction can be appreciated from 1947 onwards as his figures start to fade away; this continues up until 1965. During this period Guston becomes imbued with the predominant movements in America, developing a style based on the build-up of concentrated tones in clear marks that tend to take up the centre of the canvases. His sad yet delicate red and pink paintings at the beginning of the Fifties label him under the term “Abstract Impressionism” due to the contrast of luminosity when compared to the works of Franz Kline, Pollock or Kooning.
No stranger to large-scale pieces, canvases such as Confrontation (1974), Head and Bottle, Studio Landscape and Web, all from 1975, and Room (1976) depict Guston's comfort in exercising his new figurative style. These works contrast with a minimal part of his small-scale work, represented in this exhibition by works such as First Book (1967) and Untitled, Sole and Head (1968).
Guston was one of the first artists to publicly express his concerns over the supreme importance given to abstraction - he felt that methodology had been exalted into ideology. The hypothetical purity of abstraction had little to do with his conception of painting, which becomes freely expressed through direct and obvious humour, as can be seen in The Studio (1969) and Allegory (1975).
The Seventies constitute the period when Guston focuses on his emotional, political and psychological preoccupations - practically the entirety of his figures are self-portraits. The artist appears either sleeping, eating, drinking or painting as refinement gives way to humour and pomposity. The clearest example is East Coker-T. S. E. (1979), one of the most revealing pieces in the exhibit whereby a head is laid on a pillow as a premonition of impending death, which would strike Guston down just two years later.
Palau de la Virreina, Barcelona (May 25 - July 16, 1989); Dallas Museum of Art (November 19, 1989 - January 14, 1990)