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