Press Release

Philip Guston

Tate Liverpool
9 March – 18 August 2002

Philip Guston was one of the most influential and important American painters of the 20th century. He was a pre-eminent Abstract Expressionist and later in his career became a major figurative painter. His work has been highly influential on a generation of younger artists.

This exhibition at Tate Liverpool will present an opportunity to look at his paintings and prints in depth. It will raise issues about the practice of drawing, the use of cartoon imagery and the connection of printmaking to poetry. The exhibition will examine Guston’s radical and dramatic move away from abstraction to figuration. Guston was an anxious artist who always questioned the status of abstraction in relation to political imperatives for concretely depicting the world. He was left wing and Jewish and a significant body of his work deals with issues around the Holocaust and the political upheaval in the United States during the 1960s. Many of his works feature Klu Klux Klansmen and dismembered body parts that haunted his imagination after watching films of the Nazi concentration camps. Despite the serious political and aesthetic issues with which Guston’s practice engages, there is a great amount of cartoon-like humour and painterly beauty.

Philip Guston was born in Montreal in 1913 but grew up in Los Angeles. He studied briefly at the Otis Art Institute in 1930, but otherwise was self-taught as a painter. His early work was influenced by Renaissance masters such as Uccello and Tintoretto, but combined their type of figure composition with a compressed treatment of space derived from Cubism and de Chirico. Between 1934-1942 he worked exclusively as a mural painter on public art projects in Los Angeles and New York. He turned to easel painting after moving to Iowa in 1941 and had his first one-man exhibition at the State University of Iowa in 1944. In 1947 Guston developed an abstract style, he settled in New York in 1950 and joined the circle of Abstract Expressionists. He turned to a form of figuration with schemetic images of an enigmatic Surrealist kind in the late 1960s. Philip Guston died in 1980.