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I Paint What I Want to See: Philip Guston (Penguin Modern Classics)

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What I appreciate most, re-reading this stuff, is how he manages to hold that existential, post-war bleakness without becoming too heroic and romantic. The latest edition of the Yogyakarta biennial explores ‘Titen’, a Javanese word for the art (or science?

His declaration that ‘I think of my pictures as a kind of figuration’ is borne out in the works he was making at the time, many of which have matter-of-fact titles ( Table, Vessel, Branch, all 1960) that are worlds away from the highfalutin sublimity of those of his New York School peers. Philip Guston, one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century, spoke about art with unparalleled candour and commitment. No criptic arty language but relatable and approachable writing about making a painting, this proves to me that's mostly art critics that makes art a difficult subject, for artist it all more simple. Dialogues were Guston’s chosen form of public speech, several of which, along with other published pieces and talks, are collected in this book, published to coincide with the opening of his rescheduled retrospective in May this year. When asked about the subjects of these late paintings, he’s as confounded as anyone – ‘I don’t know what the hell it looks like’, he says, of a painting of a shoe – but that’s just what he loved about making them.So here we are, I am not the biggest fan of his work but there is something about artists, people who produce art, breath art, live art, and of course always think about art, that makes their discussions, thoughts and writings about art, absolutely fascinating. Not a review—Guston’s writings and talks are wonderful—but a note to alert the interested reader to the fact that everything in I Paint What I Want to See can be found in Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations, published by the University of California Press in 2010 (this latter book also includes additional material, the editor’s selection of accompanying images, and an Introduction by Dore Ashton). Figurative painting allowed him to do in art what he’d always loved about talking: to lurch from subject to subject, to butt up against contradictions, to make wisecracks, to repeat himself.

His repeated (and perhaps willed) endorsement of ‘frustration’ as a crucial artistic ingredient in the mid-1960s gives way, by the end of the decade, to an outpouring of large-scale paintings he repeatedly admitted to being baffled by. Philip Guston (June 27, 1913 – June 7, 1980) was a painter and printmaker in the New York School, which included many of the abstract expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.Guston, one of the most influential and provocative American artists of the 20th century, had turned his back on the hip New York scene.

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