An American Watermark in Roma

Detail, Cerveteri, 1971-1972, Oil on paper mounted on panel, 58.4 x 73.7 cm; Private Collection, California.

Dismayed by the critical response to his Marlborough Gallery exhibition in New York, Philip Guston did not bring any art supplies with him when he arrived for a six month sojourn as artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome. It was several months before he regained the creative energy necessary to embark on the Roma series, and he purchased his art supplies within walking distance of where he was staying. Guston selected Fabriano paper, made in Italy, as the support for most of the Roma paintings.

However Guston’s Cerveteri, which depicts an Italian hill town, is dated 1971-1972 and has a Strathmore watermark, identifying it as an American-made paper. Might Guston have made this work after he returned to his studio in Woodstock, New York in May 1971, demonstrating his continuing preoccupation with themes he explored in the Roma series, as curator Peter Benson Miller proposed ?

Karen Schneider, Librarian

Philip Guston: Slipping through My Fingers

Philip Guston. Residue, 1971. Oil on paper. Private Collection. © Estate of Philip Guston; image courtesy McKee Gallery, New York, NY

After giving 3 hour-long tours of Philip Guston, Roma, I’ll be honest; I have trouble with his artwork. Guston’s paintings are profoundly personal statements with objects that I recognize. Almost as soon as I see them I can say: I see a shoe; I see a fountain; I see a hood. Yet as soon as I think I understand what he wants to communicate, it slips through my fingers. His meanings are multi-veiled and intangible. I get that looking at art is not just about “getting it.”  But I keep coming back to Guston’s enigmas, and I’m puzzled; I’m asking new questions; I’m talking about it; I’m confused. One thing is for sure—I’m engaged.

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

Top: (Left) Philip Guston. Native’s Return, 1957. The Phillips Collection. (Right) Philip Guston. Residue, 1971. Oil on paper. Private Collection. © Estate of Philip Guston; image courtesy McKee Gallery, New York, NY. Bottom: (Left) Bob Dylan, released 1962, Columbia Records. (Right) The Basement Tapes, recorded 1967, released 1975, Columbia Records.

I was excited to learn that Philip Guston, the current subject of the Phillips’s exhibition Philip Guston, Roma, was living in Woodstock, New York in 1967, when he made the infamous and important shift in his work from abstract to figural painting. The subject of the Roma exhibition is the art he created during a yearlong Italian sojourn after the debut of his new figural style had been vehemently criticized by much of the New York art world. Guston was described as a “Mandarin Pretending to be a Stumblebum” by one art critic for his rejection of abstract expressionism in favor of a figural art that he believed told stories, but in what many critics at the time thought was an exceptionally crude and even ugly manner.

It brought to mind another artist working in the 1960s whose body of work was detested by his most ardent fans after a change in style. Continue reading “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” »