Philip Guston's fifty-year career stands as a unique allegory of the changing conditions of American art in the latter half of the twentieth century. Evolving an imagery that moved from "Symbolic Realism" to abstraction and back to a searching form of autobiographical figuration in the last decade of his life, Guston engaged each decade as if it needed to be seen anew and the meaning of the moment renegotiated.
In the Museum's Untitled, 1963 and Drawing, 1965, the ink lines are relaxed into lyrical shapes. As he had begun to do with painting, Guston now approached drawing as an intuitive process of image discovery, often creating strange, unexpected shapes that vaguely resemble stones.
The gray area between form and non-form was a compelling subject of investigation in much of Guston's work from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. In The Light, 1964, three dark, ambiguous shapes float in a gestural field of gray-pink. Like premonitions, these half-formed shapes suggest the presence of an object, and even the possibility of a vague narrative. Although he had become recognized as a key member of the Abstract Expressionists, Guston was beginning to court imagery again, engaging what he called "the weight of the familiar,"(1) but insisting that the images grow or emerge intuitively from the process of applying paint.
These inflected abstractions of the 1960s projected Guston's growing conviction that subjectivity does not exist in a vacuum. It is a result of engaging the world at large. In 1960, three years before completing The Light, Guston made a startling assessment for a successful abstract painter: "There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth we inherit from abstract art: that painting is autonomous, pure and for itself, and therefore we habitually define its ingredients and define its limits. But painting is 'impure.' It is the adjustment of impurities, which forces painting’s continuity. We are image-makers and image-ridden."(2) As he had gradually deconstructed the representational image in the late 1940s, Guston was now reconstructing it.
(1) Dore Ashton, A Critical Study of Philip Guston (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Oxford: University of California Press, 1976): 148.
(2) Musa Mayer, Night Studio: A Memoir of Philip Guston (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1988): 141.