Philip Guston - Contemporary Art Part I New York Wednesday, May 13, 2009 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Estate of the artist; McKee Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, September 20 – November 20, 1983; Buffalo, Albright Knox Gallery, December 10, 1983 – January 15, 1984; Columbus Museum of Art, April 7 – May 20, 1984; Purchase, Neuberger Museum, June 7 – September 15, 1984 and Portland Art Museum, American Still Life: 1945 – 1983, October 9 – December 9, 1984; Bologna, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, La Natura della Natura Morta, December 1, 2001 – February 24, 2002; New York, McKee Gallery, Philip Guston: Mind and Matter, November 11, 2003 – January 10, 2004; New York, Edward Tyler Nahem, Summer Selections, June 2 – August 30, 2008

  • Literature

    L. Cathcart, American Still Life 1945-1983, Houston, 1983, p. 68 (illustrated); J. Buckley, ed., Philip Guston: The Late Works, Melbourne, 1984, pp. 56 – 57; K. de Barañano, Philip Guston: La Raiz del Dibujo, Bilbao, 1993, p. 33 (illustrated); McKee Gallery, ed., Philip Guston: Mind and Matter, NewYork, 2004, pp. 7, 13 & 40 (illustrated); Timothy Taylor Gallery, ed., Philip Guston, London, 2004, pp. 31 – 32

  • Catalogue Essay

    In the last decade of his life, Philip Guston created the most celebrated works of his long career in a courageous shift towards representational imagery; the present lot, Anxiety, 1975, is one of the strongest works of this period. In his later works, Guston focused on simple imagery with profound meanings embedded in them, as the telephone and egg sandwich in the present lot have a particularly personal connection to the artist, and can even be read as self-portraiture via still-life.
    Guston was first an acclaimed star of the Abstract Expressionists alongside Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Guston made abstract paintings for approximately sixteen years, before he transitioned into his later figurative period. It was during this time that Guston developed his signature brushstrokes, which retained prime importance in his later work. Guston’s friend Morton Feldman remembers this time in the fifties as “[Guston] and [studio mate, artist Bradley Walker] Tomlin could talk for hours, I mean hours, on what a single brushstroke meant—what was its character and where was it going” (M. Auping, “Impure Thoughts,” Philip Guston Retrospective, Fort Worth, 2003, p. 39). For Guston, the brushstroke was the essential element of painting and he focused on this fundamental act of making marks. He worked on paintings in very close proximity to the canvas, scrutinizing each stroke. “Guston laid claim to a special immediacy and intimacy related to ‘touch.’ The paintbrush was like a sacred tool to Guston.The nine-inch-long wooden shaft and the flattened horsehairs that protruded from its end were like an extension of his fingers. Guston had his pigments ground to create a particularly creamy consistency, and like thick butter applied to a hard surface, each stroke subtly squeezed out at its edges, creating a micro-sculptural effect. Guston envisioned the art of applying paint, whether employed in abstract or representational painting, as an innate and fundamental form of portraiture, like a fingerprint” (Ibid p. 41). The seductiveness of Guston’s paint handling and elegance of his mark making developed in his abstract period remained a critical component of his later works as evidenced in the present lot.
    In 1967, Guston left New York to break free of the mob-mentality of the art world and tomove away from his abstract paintings which had been so well received there.The artists spoke of this need for change, “This disenchantment grew. I knew that I would need to test painting all over again in order to appeasemy desires for the clear and sharper enigma of solid forms in an imagined space, a world of tangible things, images, subjects, stories, like the way art always has” (R. McKee, ed. “Philip Guston Talking,” Philip Guston, London, 2004, p. 23). He moved to Woodstock where he worked on the paintings for his first exhibition of his new figurative works at Marlborough Gallery in New York in 1970 and continued to work for the rest of his life. When the show opened, the New York art world did not know how to process this radical change and short-sighted critics reviewed it negatively. However, these works, that were later to become some of the artistsmost celebrated paintings, were immediately well received by fellow painter Willem de Kooning. At the opening, de Kooning embraced Guston and told him that he admired the new paintings’ celebration of freedom. “That Guston had the courage to make this radical departure is astonishing. The freedom he carved for himself, to break away and paint what he wanted to rather than what others expected, is a testament to his authenticity as a person” (J. Weber, “Philip Guston and Soren Kierkegaard: Facing the Despairing Self,” Philip Guston, A New Alphabet: The Late Transition, New Haven, 2000, p. 7).
    This new move to the representational brought forth a world of objects filled with meaning.The artists said, “What I am getting at is that I find more and more that what I like is what has a feeling of poetry and is the expression which is of a time and place and region. It is saturated with particularity” (P. Guston, “On Cave Art, Church Art, Ethnic Art, and Art,” ArtNews, December 1974). In an eloquent lecture Philp Guston delivered at the University of Minnesota in March 1978, Guston chose to speak about the present lot:
    "I have a horror of telephones. I have a gadget so that you can turn it off, so that I can call out but nobody can call me. It’s a very selfish thing to do, but I indulge myself in the luxury. And there’s a luncheonette not far away, and they have the most marvelous bacon and egg sandwich. That’s what this is. I was painting the hated object and the desired object. There was a lot of bacon sticking out and it started looking like a body. When you paint things they change into something else, something totally unpredictable. The telephone looked terrible. I started to scrape it out and it began to look o.k. The black was scraped out with a knife and it looked like the effect you get when you are a kid and you put paper over a coin and rub…So then I thought, I should make a painting of it, put something between those objects. I didn’t know what to do, so I made them into two pictures, one a picture of a telephone and the other a picture of the sandwich and that seemed o.k." (Philip Guston in R. McKee, ed., “Philip GustonTalking: A Lecture Given in March 1978,” Philip Guston, London, 2004, pp. 31 -32).
    The telephone and sandwich are potent symbols for the artist that take on a self-portrait quality.The artist’s own tension between conflicting desires to hide from and embrace the pleasures of the world are embodied in the painting. During his time in Woodstock, Guston was particularly reclusive, liking to live in the world of his paintings and his family. He preferred to have studio visits with a few close friends who were writers, rather than engage in the social gatherings of the art scene. His friends were all aware of his telephone device and how it allowed Guston to cut off the world. They also fondly remembered his love of great food. In his memoir on the artist, friend William Corbett said, “Guston ate with a dainty ferocity. He was a good cook with a remarkable memory for meals he had eaten and the gift to make talked about food mouth watering. I can hear him beginning the account of a meal: ‘You know when you’re hungry? I mean you just want some food, a piece of fresh fish, almost anything will do…’ At his funeral his dealer David McKee remembered Guston’s late-night cravings for shrimp or chocolate pinwheels and off they went to find them,” (W. Corbett, Philip Guston’s Late Work: A Memoir, Cambridge, 1994, p. 49).
    The present lot, Anxiety, 1975 is a poetic self-portrait of the reflective artist. “The courage, honesty, and discipline to be authentic and to come clean unites Guston, the man, to the late works. In them he attacks broad questions about the human condition, not with words or philosophical treaties, but with paint. Like Old Testament prophecies, his paintings trumpet impending doom, urge self-examination, and demand a shaking free from the mob mentality: Do not be passive. Act. He painted strong, almost cartoonlike, images to make his point, to himself, of what can happen when humans live unchecked lives and hide from their own despair—what Kierkegaard called ‘inauthentic despair.’ For Guston, a person who does not engage in self-reflection, who has no concern for the well-being of others, or who is without an existentialist framework for ethical and fair living is inauthentic. As a participant in the human journey, Guston was compelled to create paintings that were deeply personal confessions. He reflected on his surrounding culture and its ugliness, placing himself in it, in humility. It is as if he sought redemption through painting,” (J.Weber, “Philip Guston and Soren Kierkegaard: Facing the Despairing Self,” Philip Guston: A New Alphabet, The Late Transition, New Haven, 2000, p. 7).




Oil on canvas.

57 1/2 x 80 1/4 in. (146 x 203.8 cm).

Signed “Philip Guston” lower right; signed, titled, and dated “Philip Guston ‘Anxiety’ 1975” on the reverse.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,082,500

Contemporary Art Part I

14 May 2009, 7pm
New York