Philip Guston 1913-1980


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Commonly known as the founder of Neo-Expressionism, Philip Guston (Philip Goldstein) turned to painting at the age of fourteen as a way to deal with his tumultuous childhood. His Ukranian Jewish parents escaped persecution and moved to Canada before settling in California. When Guston was a young child, he found his father in the shed after he hanged himself. He enrolled himself at the Los Angeles Manual Arts High School in 1927 and befriended classmate Jackson Pollock. The pair published a newspaper criticizing the school's emphasis on sports over art, which later resulted in their expulsion. Guston attended Otis University for a brief period before moving to New York in 1935.


After moving to New York, Guston worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a mural painter and was greatly influenced by the Renaissance masters. In the 1950s, he was a successful painter and printmaker in the New York School alongside Pollock and Willem de Kooning as the first generation of Abstract Expressionists.  He became frustrated with Abstract Expressionism in the late 1960s and chose a more representational route. He moved to Woodstock and distanced himself from the world. Guston once stated, "There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth we inherit from Abstract Art. That painting is autonomous, pure and for itself, therefore we habitually analyze its ingredients and define its limits. But painting is 'impure.' It is the adjustment of 'impurities,' which forces its continuity. We are image-makers and image-ridden." His style was termed Neo-Expressionism, abandoning both pure abstraction and realism. Guston's style favored symbols and cartoon images, which he loved as a child.


Guston taught at the School of Art and Art History at the University of Iowa, Washington University in St. Louis, New York University, Pratt Institute and Boston University. In 1980, the same year he died, he was elected as an Associate Academician at the National Academy of Design. Guston's highest sale was in 2013 when his painting To Fellini (1958) sold for $25.8 million.


Philip Guston's work is included in various prestigious permanent collections as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Bezalel National Museum in Jerusalem, the Brooklyn Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the High Art Museum in Atlanta, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.


Related Categories: New York School, Abstract Expressionism, Post-War American Art, United States, Painting, Narrative, Line, Form and Color.