Philip Guston: Travels through Modern American Art

Katherine20th Century Art, American Paintings, Artist Spotlight, Contemporary / Modern ArtLeave a Comment

Artist Philip Guston

No art movement or style could hold Philip Guston.  He changed and transformed as it suited him, arguing that painting was essentially impure and wild. To limit art by defining it was doing a disservice. His career was a constant flux of construction and deconstruction.

Philip Guston was born in 1913 in Montreal, but grew up in Los Angeles.  He befriended Jackson Pollock while they both attended Manual Arts High School. After Guston was expelled, he taught himself art and philosophy. In 1935, he moved to New York and joined Burgoyne Diller and James Brooks in painting murals for the Works Progress Administration.

The style from this period can be categorized as realistic social commentary with some hint at an interest

Artist Philip Guston

Artist Philip Guston

in abstraction. The organization of figures was greatly influenced by the works of Uccello, an early Renaissance painter and mathematician. Uccello remained a major inspiration throughout Guston’s career. Guston would combine Renaissance composition with the claustrophobic treatment of space championed by the Cubists and de Chirico and other styles as it suited him.


Sometime around 1947, he had begun to nurture his interest in abstraction and join a group of artists who would become the Abstract Expressionists. Abstract Expressionism favored bold works that accepted a wide variety of color. Spontaneity, invention, energy, and drama were all highly valued. The movement included artists such as Gottlieb, Rothko, and, Guston’s school friend, Pollock.

In the late 1950s, Philip Guston became fascinated by the dichotomy between form and formlessness. In works such as The Light, color and thick brushstroke congeal into what could be an object or shape, but never becomes one. Guston said that the shapes emerged organically as he painted, but during this time period he was beginning to move back to more concrete imagery.

Guston moved on from this style when he was no longer satisfied with it and reemerged with a more surreal, pop art style. These works were cartoonish, blocky, and gruesome. His art became more autobiographical during this time and he returned to the social commentary of his earlier career.

Philip Guston’s catalog represents the shift of American art during his lifetime. Never beholden to one style, Guston believed that art was constantly changing and did not exist in a vacuum. He absorbed many ideas and turned out unique forms of expression.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *