“The painting is not on a surface, but on a plane which is imagined. It moves in a mind. It is not there physically at all. It is an illusion, a piece of magic, so that what you see is not what you see.”
Philip Guston (Montreal, Canada, 1913 – Woodstock, New York, 1980) is acclaimed for his figurative works which oftentimes featured social and political commentary during the heyday of abstract expressionism. Born in Montreal, Canada, to Russian Jewish émigrés, Guston and his family moved to California in 1919 where he attended high school alongside Jackson Pollock. In the 1930s, Guston traveled to Mexico. While there, he came into contact with Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, which had a great influence on his work; alongside artist Reuben Kadish, Guston co-painted a fresco entitled The Struggle Against War and Fascism in Morelia, Mexico, which came to national attention. The artist then moved to New York to work as a muralist for the Works Progress Administration before teaching at universities in the Midwest. In 1948, Guston received the Prix de Rome and traveled to Italy in order to study the art there before embarking on his forays into abstraction in the 1950s. Ultimately feeling frustrated by the political climate and limited by abstraction’s possibilities to argue for political change, he rededicated himself to figuration in the late 1960s, developing his own personal lexicon of symbols including hooded figures, large eyeballs, cigarettes, shoes, and clocks depicted in a cartoonish fashion. While not favored by critics at the time, he is today renowned for these works and viewed as a forebear of neo-expressionism.