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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Philip Guston, May 2 – July 1, 1962. This exhibition later traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum, May 15 – June 23, 1963
    London, Tate Gallery, Painting and Sculpture of a Decade: 1954- 64, April 22 – June 28, 1964
    California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Philip Guston, February 15 – March 26, 1967
    Waterville Maine, Colby College Art Museum, Three Artists of Today: Philip Guston, Conrad Marca-Relli, James Rosati, April 14 – May 14, 1967
    New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art, May 2011 – August 2011

  • Literature

    H.H. Arnason, Philip Guston, New York, 1962, p. 102, pl. 79 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    In my way of working, I work to eliminate the distance or the time between my thinking and doing. PHILIP GUSTON

    (Philip Guston, taken from a dialogue with Harold Rosenberg, 1966, D. Ashton. A Critical Study of Philip Guston, Los Angeles, 1976, p. 132).

    In 1962, the Guggenheim Museum held its very first one-artist retrospective exhibition. Philip Guston was the artist deemed worthy of such an honor, and the introduction to the exhibition identified a key trend in Guston’s work of the late 1950s: “In these paintings and those that immediately followed them the drama of conflict which for some years had existed in Guston’s use of color shapes, began to become explicit”(H. Arnason, Philip Guston, New York, 1962, p.30). The conflict of philosophical anxiety had thrust its way into Guston’s abstractions, and nowhere does this conflict rear its head more than in Path III, 1960.

    Guston found himself heavily immersed in the philosophy of great minds during the late 1950s; from Einstein’s denial of density as a real concept to Kafka’s insistence that man is a slave to his materialism, Guston’s research had myriad artistic consequences in his work. Yet, when examining the extraordinary canvas of Path III, 1960, there is no clearer philosophy at work than that of Existentialism. Guston’s intimate study with these writers laid bare to him that life was a drama of choices—between religion and atheism, between greed and altruism, between self-abnegation and self-affirmation. The present lot is without both conventional figures and a conventional color scheme, and, ultimately, defies a label of abstract expressionism or figurative expressionism. It is, in the end, a holistic expression of Guston’s creative anxiety. Faced with “the ‘impossiblity’ of making art in the absence of a vital common language,” Guston opts not for the veneer of common shapes and landscapes, but chooses a language that is entirely his own (R. Storr. Modern Masters: Philip Guston, New York, 1986, p. 30).

    In executing Path III, 1960, it was not the first time that Guston employed a deeply darkened color palette; one can see his use of heavy blacks and saturated hues dominating canvasses as early as Tormentors, 1947-1948. Yet, in his earlier canvasses, Guston laid out a semblance of order, as figures rendered in a quasi-Cubist approach conversed in his pictures. The present lot represents a major break from this order—Guston’s canvas lies untouched at its edges, giving the oil paint on unprimed surface sole dominion in the center of the picture. In beginning a painting, Guston often chose an environmental object for structural inspiration, then, having rendered it on the canvas, strove to obscure its representational elements. The result before us is a conflict of expression: several shapes, most notably the three egg-like figures lying parallel in the top center, take pictorial precedence in the foreground, as the viscous grays and brown fall behind them in clear submission.

    In addition, the conversation among these three ovular phantoms (a running motif in Guston’s contemporaneous work) is far from friendly. None has full command of the surface, but the enormous central disc certainly has the side figures at bay. Its dominance, rendered within an indifferent black hue, demonstrates that this psychologically fraught patch of darkness is winning the argument inherent. Here, we see here layers upon layers of Guston’s impulses: as he often obscured existing shapes in favor of creating new ones, if the emotion struck him, there lay below the three triumphant figures countless fallen entities of similar power and will to prevail. In the lower central portion of the piece, beneath the sensuous brushstrokes and passionate application of more notorious hues, we see flashes of orange and blazing red attempting to claw their way to the viewer’s spectrum of vision to only minor avail. The relationship between structure and subject, a topic which resonates deeply within the oeuvre of a painter such as Guston, becomes deeply personal in Path III, 1960, for Guston gives his very impulses and anxieties physical life.

    For Guston, in the midst of existential quandary, there was no landscape or subject that could properly represent his relationship to his art. The abstract nature of Guston’s picture hinges on the destructive nature of meaning: to see familiar forms in a picture is itself reductive—it condemns the painting to only finite solutions, metaphorical permanence, and absence of mystery. Guston’s art was expression and painting his expressionistic medium, and, therefore, he discovered his subjects through the process of following his instincts on the canvas. Path III, 1960 tells us that Guston’s particular truth comes not in gift-wrapped packages, but in explosions of color and warring hints of fleeting figures.

    At the inception of Path III, 1960, however, Guston had made a critical decision that was to affect the rest of his painterly career. His abstractions of the late 1950s and early 1960s present an internal struggle for the veridical, that which is the unfiltered reality of expression. Critic H. Aranson, in describing the artist’s work for the aforementioned Guggenheim exhibition, defended the progressive nature of these incendiary paintings: “they are not a negation but an affirmation of constantly new and unexpected dramas of forms, new and unexpected spatial, color, and atmospheric relationships”(Philip Guston, New York, 1962, p. 33). In Path III, 1960 Guston’s existential choice is most certainly a brazen one—a choice to battle for what is true rather than to settle for what is fair.

    “I do not see why the loss of faith in the known image and symbol in our time should be celebrated as a freedom. It is a loss we suffer, and this pathos
    motivates modern painting and poetry at [its] heart” (Philip Guston, 1958, quoted from P. Miller, “Hoods on Vacation: Philip Guston’s Roma Series”, ed.
    Peter Benson Miller, Philip Guston: Roma, Ostfildern, 2010, p. 37)

PROPERTY OF A NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION

30

Path III

1960
oil on canvas
64 x 76 in. (162.6 x 193 cm)
Signed “Philip Guston” lower right. Also signed, titled and dated “Philip Guston, ‘Path III’, 1960” on the reverse.

Estimate
$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York