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Phillip Guston (1913 – 1980)


Notable painter of the New York School, which included many of the Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning.
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Phillip Guston
It is the bareness of drawing that I like. The act of drawing is what locates, suggests, discovers. At times it seems enough to draw, without the distractions of color and mass. Yet it is an old ambition to make drawing and painting one. Usually I draw in relation to my painting, what I am working on at the time. On a lucky day a surprising balance of forms and spaces will appear and I feel the drawing making itself, the image taking hold. This in turn moves me towards painting -anxious to get to the same place, with the actuality of paint and light.
Guston quotes
I mean that the things I felt and that I enjoyed about certain painters of the past that I liked, that inspired me, like Cťzanne and Manet, that thing I enjoyed in their work, that complete losing of oneself in the work to such an extent that the work itself, even though it was a picture of a woman in front of a mirror or some dead fish on the table, the pictures of those men were no pictures to me. They felt as if a living organism was posited there on the canvas, on this surface. Thatís truly to me the act of creation.
Guston
If you push it, it feels good; I donít know what it is. It must have something to do with kinesthesia. I feel now that I am painting Iím not drawing anything, or even representing non-objective art. You know, you can represent abstract art, too, as well as heads figures, nudes. A lot of abstract artists are just representational painters, you know that. And a lot of figurative artists are very abstract. I donít feel as if Iím doing that. I feel more as if Iím shaping something with my hands. I feel as if Iíve always wanted to get to that state. Like a blind man in a dark room had some clay, what would he make? I end up with 2 or 3 forms on a canvas, but it gets very physical for me. I always thought I am a very spiritual man, not interested in paint, and now I discover myself to be very physical and very involved with matter. I want to be involved with how heavy things are, a balloon, how light things are, things levitating, pushing forms, make me feel as if my hand is pushing in a head, bulges out here and pushes there.




Guston Phillip quotes
I am not interested in making a picture. Then what the hell I am interested in? I must be interested in that process that I am talking about.. I donít keep the studio very tidy. You have on the floor like cow dung in the field.. ..and I look down at this stuff on the floor and itís just a lot of inert matter, inert paint. Then what is it? I look back on the canvas, and itís not inert, itís active, moving and living.. ..Why I need this kind of miracle, I donít know it, but I need it. my conviction is that this is the act of creation to me. Thatís how I have it.
Guston Phillip
I have a studio in the country - in the woods Ė but my paintings look more real to me than what is outdoors. You walk outside; the rocks are inert, even the clouds are inert. It makes me feel a little better. But I do have a faith that it is possible if you can move that inch.
Phillip Guston quotes
(Painting is..) a kind of war between the moment and the pull of memory.(1959)
Phillip Guston
I should like to paint like an man who has never seen a painting, but this man Ėmyself Ė lives in a museum.
Guston Phillip quotes
..when I see people making quote Ďabstractí painting, I think itís just a dialogue and a dialogue isnít enough, that is to say, there is you painting and this canvas. I think there has to be a third thing, it has to be a trialogue. Whether that third thing - it must be, to reverberate and make trouble, you have to have trouble and contradictions, it has to become complex because life is complex, emotions are complex, - whether that third element is a still life of something, or an idea or a concept, in each case it has to be a trialogue and above all has to involve you.. ..The real thing that matters is how involved you are in that.
Guston
There are so many things to paint in the world Ė in the cities Ė so much to see. Does art need to represent this variety and contribute to its proliferation? Can art be that free? The difficulties begin when you understand what it is that the soul will not permit the hand to make. To paint is always to start at the beginning again, yet being unable to avoid the familiar arguments about what you see yourself painting. The canvas you are working on modifies the previous ones in an unending, baffling chain which never seems to finish. (What sympathy is demanded of the viewer! He is asked to 'see' the future links.
Guston Phillip
But you begin to feel as you go on working that unless painting proves its right to exist by being critical and self-judging, it has no reason to exist at all - or is not even possible. The canvas is a court where the artist is prosecutor, defendant, jury and judge. Art without a trial disappears at a glance.
Phillip Guston
Frank (OíHara, fh) was in his most non-stop way of talking, saying that the pictures put him in mind of Tiepolo. Certain cupola frescoes. Suddenly I was working in an ancient building, a warehouse facing the Giudecca. The loft over the firehouse was transformed. It was filled with light reflected from the canal. (1955)




Phillip Guston quotes
I got sick and tired of all that Purity! Wanted to tell stories.. (1967, on his change from abstract-expressionism to figurative painting, fh)
Phillip Guston
..there comes a point when something catches on the canvas, something grips on the canvas. I donít know what it is, you can put your paint on the surface? Most of the time it looks like paint, and who the hell wants paint on a surface? But there does come a time Ė you take it off, put it on, goes over here, moves over a foot, as you go closer you start moving in inches not feet, half-inches Ė there comes a point when the paint doesnít feel like paint. I donít know why. Some mysterious thing happens. I think you have all experienced it.. ..What counts is that the paint should really disappear, otherwise itís craft. Thatís what I mean by something grips in a canvas. The moment that happens you are then sucked into the whole thing. Like some kind of rhythm.í
Guston quotes
Painting and sculpture are very archaic forms. Itís the only thing left in our industrial society where an individual alone can make something with not just his own hands, but brains, imagination, heart maybe. Itís a very archaic form. Same things can be said with words, writing poetry, making sounds, music. It is a unique thing.. ..I think that the original revolutionary impulse behind the New York School, as I felt it anyway, and as I think my colleagues felt and the way we talked all the time, was a kind of a.. ..you felt as if you were driven into a corner against the wall, with no place to stand, just the place you occupied as if the act of painting was not making a picture.. ..it was as if you had to prove to yourself that truly the act of creation was still possible.. ..I felt as if I was talking to myself, having a dialectical monologue with myself to see if I could create.
Guston Phillip
Lots of artists who paint have that experience to one degree or another, this release where their thinking doesnít precede their doing. The space is shortened between thinking and doing. Itís a funny thing, what I really hate, yet I have to go through with it, is the preparation. You have to go through it, like somebody preparing for sacred vows, the sensation of you putting paint on, and itís so boring to put paint on and to see yourself putting paint on. Youíre really preparing for those few hours where some kind of umbilical cord is attached between you and it. You do it and the work is done and this cord seems to slacken, as if you left yourself there. And what a relief to leave yourself somewhere, to get out of it entirely.
Guston Phillip quotes
I was forced and pushed into the kind of painting that I did (during the late forties, early fifties, fh) . That is to say, the demands in this dialogue with myself Ė I give to it, I make some marks, it speaks to me, I speak to it, we have terrible arguments going on all night, weeks and weeks Ė do I really believe that? I make a mark, a few strokes, I argue with myself, not do I like or not, but is it true or not? Is that what I mean, is that what I want?
Phillip Guston
To will a new form is inacceptable, because will builds distortion. Desire too, is incomplete and arbitrary. These strategies, however intimate they might become, must especially be removed to clear the way for something else Ė a condition somewhat unclear, but which in retrospect becomes a very precise act. This Ďthingí is recognized only as it comes into existence. It resists analysis - and probably this is as it should be. Possibly the moral is that art cannot and should not be made.
Phillip Guston quotes
ĎAll these troubles revolve around the irritable mutual dependence of life and art Ė with their need and contempt for one another. Of necessity, to create is a temporary state and cannot be possessed, because you learn and relearn that it is the lie and mask of Art and, too, its mortification, which promise a continuity. There are twenty crucial minutes in the evolution of each of my paintings. The closer I get to that time - those twenty minutes Ė the more intensely subjective I become Ė bit the more objective, too. Your eye gets sharper, you become continuously more and more critical. There is no measure I can hold on..
Phillip Guston
Man is not supposed to make life. Only God can make a tree. Why should you make a living organism? You should make images of living organisms. It seems presumptuous to attempt to make a thing which breathes and pulsates right there by itself. Itís unnatural. Whatís inhuman about it is, the human way to create, I think, the way we see, from part to part. You do this and then you do that, then you do that and that. Then you learn about composition, you learn about old masters, you form certain ideas about structure. But the inhuman activity of trying to make some kind of jump or leap, where even though you naturally have to paint, after all a painting is only a painting, the painting is always saying, what do you want from me, I can only be a painting, you have to go from part to part, but you shouldnít see yourself go from part to part, thatís the whole point Thatís some kind of a leap.. ..Iím describing the process of painting.
Guston Phillip
There is something ridiculous and miserly in the myth we inherit from abstract art: That painting is autonomous, pure and for itself, and therefore we habitually analyze its ingredients and define its limits. But painting is Ďimpureí. It is the adjustment of Ďimpuritiesí, which forces paintingís continuity. We are image-makers and image-ridden. There are no Ďwiggly or straight linesí or any other elements. You work until you vanish. The picture isnít finished if they are seen.
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