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Philip Guston Photo

Philip Guston Artworks

American Painter

Born: June 27, 1913 - Montreal, Canada
Died: June 7, 1980 - Woodstock, New York

Progression of Art



Gladiators is an early example of Guston's social realist style, which he would maintain throughout his work as muralist with the WPA. It represents an attempt to capture something of the monumentality that he admired in Italian Renaissance art, though it is also one of the first pictures in which he explores the imagery of hooded figures, fists and shields, which would reappear in his late work.

Oil and pencil on canvas. 24 1/2 in. x 28 1/8 in. - Museum of Modern Art; gift of Edward R. Broida



Zone, a painting that reflects the focused concentration of Guston's mature work, suggests a warm calm, with its mist of red hatch-marks filling the painting's center. Here, Guston hones his mark-making, and builds layers of paint out of quick, small stokes that are quite distinct from the wilder gestures of some of his colleagues. "Look at any inspired painting," he once said, "it's like a gong sounding; it puts you in a state of reverberation."

Oil on canvas. 46 in.x48 in. - The Edward R. Broida Trust, Los Angeles


Last Piece

Last Piece is not Guston's last Abstract Expressionist painting, but it represents a transition away from the shimmering forms of the early 1950s towards the recognizable motifs of his later, more figurative works. If Buddhism, and concepts of nothingness, had informed his earlier abstractions, this represents a move away from those inspirations.

Goauche on board. 22 in.x30 in. - Museum of Modern Art; Estate of Philip Guston


The Studio

The Studio marks the beginning of Philip Guston's move away from abstraction and back to the figuration he practiced during the 1930s and 1940s, while he worked in the WPA mural painting style. This painting is widely recognized as an early meta-self portrait, in which Guston presents himself, laboring at his easel in the hood that he will continue to employ as a motif in future Klansmen works. Puffing on a cigar through his hood, the painter keeps his hand free to create his masterpiece: a cartoonish self-portrait of his hooded persona. Clement Greenberg once remarked that, with the exception of Arshile Gorky, Guston was the most romantic artist of his generation.

Oil on canvas. 48 in. x 62 in. - Musa Guston


City Limits

In City Limits, Guston's hooded characters squeeze into a car, like clowns, as if to go cause trouble in town. His Klansmen often undertook myriad tasks in his paintings, but more than most, this image reflects an aspect of Guston's original motivation for switching back towards realism: a growing fear at the spread of political disorder and upheaval in America.

Oil on canvas. 6.5' x 8'7 1/4". - Museum of Modern Art; Estate of Philip Guston


Head and Bottle

Head and Bottle exemplifies Guston's move away from painting the hooded Klansmen in the late 1960s. He invented this lima-bean shaped Cyclops head, with no body and one giant eye, to represent the all-seeing artist. In this work, the eye scrutinizes a green bottle, studying it as if about to pick up the nearby paintbrush to render it in red paint. The year after he painted this, Guston was hospitalized with exhaustion.

Oil on canvas. 48 in. x 62 in. - Musa Guston



Towards the end of his life, Guston not only expanded his palette once again, to include blues and yellows, but he once again incorporated abstraction into many of his works.

Synthetic polymer paint on paper mounted on board. 20 in. x 30 in. - Museum of Modern Art - Estate of Philip Guston

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Philip Guston Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Nov 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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