Head On

Philip Guston "Web" 1975 on view at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY in "Paint Made Flesh" show.
Philip Guston “Web” 1975 on view at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY in “Paint Made Flesh” show.

Paint Made Flesh” originated at the Frist Center in Nashville and then stopped at the Philips Collection in DC before arriving at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester. It features an all star lineup of top-shelf, painter’s work from 1952 to 2006. I was asked to make some short comments on the painting of my choice. The MAG sent me the tiniest jpegs of the collection and I spotted Philip Guston’s “Web” painting in there so I claimed it. I had seen this painting at the Modern when they had their sensational Guston retrospective a few years back. I was given a brief opportunity to preview this show at the MAG (It opens this Saturday) and it will be an overwhelming treat for painters.

I used my smoothest delivery to record these comments for their audio tour. It can be accessed at the show with your cell phone.

I’m Paul Dodd and I’m happy to say a few words about Philip Guston’s painting entitled “Web”.

After a very successful run as a painter of gorgeous abstracts, Philip Guston decided that he wanted to “tell stories” and he returned to the figure. These late paintings are blunt, humorous and dark. Here he depicts himself face down on the ground, his monstrous, bloodshot eye has looked too much or seen too much yet he is still looking, eye wide open. He poured his entire life into painting and and he confronted it head on. He recognized the absurdity of it all and had the graphic skills to express it, often painting about the act of painting itself.

You have to move back a bit to take in the scope of this landscape, the dramatic advance of the spiders capitalizing on the artist’s inertia and the blood pool that stops abruptly and floats in transparent space while his wife, Musa, his life-affirming source, pops up at his side.

I find Guston’s late work to be heroic in its openness and thrilling in its directness. I hope you enjoy it.

Now if I had a cell phone I could hear it back.


2 Replies to “Head On”

  1. what a great explanation of the painting! i’ve always liked this one but sure didnt know what it was all about. and i never expected that thing with hair would be his wife!
    u posted this painting on bruce anderson’s birthday, and guston is one of bruce’s favorite painters. i was in an art gallery with bruce in san francisco, and when he looked at a guston that was on exhibit, he burst out laughing. the painting featured a giant sneaker.
    more explanations of paintings please!

  2. I like what you say here, Paul.

    One of the wonders of Guston’s works is the many interpretations that can be attached. I see the fluidity, luminescence and the subjects of these later paintings as presenting both the horror and the beauty of it all… sometimes similtaneously. The same painting seems to hover near the depths of despair and in another moment it holds the greatest bliss. The spiders might be emblems of inertia and, on the other hand, they seem friendly, even cosy, and Guston and Musa are tightly sewn in a kind of netting of love.
    Another great Guston! I can’t wait to see it in person.

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