PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)


PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)
signed ‘Philip Guston’ (lower right); signed again, titled and dated 'PHILIP GUSTON "MOONLIGHT" 1975' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
46 x 68 1/2 in. (121.9 x 174 cm.)
Painted in 1975.
David McKee Gallery, New York
Joan Sonnabend, Boston
Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York, David McKee Gallery, Philip Guston Paintings 1975, March-April 1976, no. 4.


The Guston Foundation confirms that this lot will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Philip Guston.

A prime example of Philip Guston’s iconic late period, Moonlight makes bold use of his signature iconography and speaks to its autobiographical, if not cryptic, nature. Part of a body of work that the artist undertook following his move to Woodstock, New York, this striking composition borrows from Guston’s earlier period as an Abstract Expressionist with its energetic handling of paint, while decisively veering from the nonrepresentational in favor of surreal imagery and an almost foreboding air. Splitting from his New York School contemporaries like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning in the late 1960s, Guston’s late work has become synonymous with a return to cerebral figuration and stylized representation in the latter half of the 20th century.

Moonlight is purposefully dark and exhibits an almost subterranean quality. Emerging from the robustly rendered black ground, several boot soles flower like a stand of red mushrooms. Their depiction is indicative of Guston’s late period style, and the overt attention to each cobbler nail draws the viewer’s focus to the center of the composition. A blue strip of foreground is echoed chromatically in the circular form at the top of the canvas. Casting cartoonish rays, it could be the titular moon or one of the bare bulbs so often seen in the artist’s iconography. The depiction of space is limited, and the entirety of the composition pushes forward into the picture plane. This serves to confront the viewer head on and makes for a more immediate experience of the work.

The painting belongs to a distinguished series of canvases which Guston began in the mid-1970s, and which focused on figures and forms in dark and atmospheric settings. These “nocturnes,” including works such as Night, 1977; Frame, 1976; and Flame, 1978 possess a simplicity and grandeur that is not often found in contemporary painting of the period. The eminent critic Robert Storr described them thus, “In them, traditional genres are conflated, and commonplace objects, assuming an almost animate presence, enjoy the same status as the figure in a heroic Baroque composition” (R. Storr, Guston, New York, 1986, p. 79).

First rising to prominence within the New York School, Guston’s works in the 1940s and 50s were exemplary for their attention to texture and expressive use of paint. Building up atmospheric layers of thickly-wrought brushstrokes yielded works like Painting, 1954 and The Clock, 1956-57 which were lauded by critics in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. Along with classmate Jackson Pollock, Guston had been introduced to the work of Giorgio di Chirico and Pablo Picasso early on by a high school teacher. From these artists came an interest in dynamic lighting, drama, and an innovative sense of space that shows itself in his earliest compositions. This quickly dissolved as he and Pollock helped to champion the nonrepresentational abstract in the mid-20th century. However, by 1968, Guston experienced a sudden break when he, seemingly overnight, abandoned abstraction for what would become his triumphant late style. Infusing his own brazen brushwork with the mysterious settings and moodiness of di Chirico’s pittura metafisica, Guston cycled back to his earlier influences. Gone are the crisp planes and clean lines. In their place, works like Moonlight exhibit a fluid, gritty texture that is infinitely more personal and decidedly Guston. Henry Hopkins, former director of the San Francisco Museum of Art, recalled the first time he saw these later paintings, noting, “Whatever psychological dam had been blocking Guston’s creative surge had burst. Self-revelatory, self-deprecatory, urgent, tormented, dumb, sad, humorous, anything and everything but pretty, the hand and the heart were moving with a will of their own I felt that I knew what had happened. Guston was finally revealing himself as what he is, the wandering Jewish intellectual carrying everything of value in his massive head. For a lifetime, the chains of knowing had entwined him like those of Marley’s ghost in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And now he was throwing them off” (H. Hopkins cited in Philip Guston, exh. cat. MoMA San Francisco, 1980, p. 47). Working so long under the burden of one of the largest American art movements, Guston cast it aside and started making work that was decidedly different from his previous practice. However, rather than completely break with his past, the artist seems to have given form and clarity to his densely-packed abstractions of the preceding years. Employing heavy outlines and more noticeable ground planes, Guston captured the gestural nervousness of earlier works and encapsulated it in conglomerations of objects, disembodied appendages, and darkly foreboding scenes.

The paintings produced after Guston’s move to Woodstock are a visual record of an intimate iconography collected throughout his life. The critic Dore Ashton commented, “The profusion of images he produced late in life can be compared to Picasso’s last, immense cycle of drawings in which all the motifs of his lifetime parade in a grand finale and add up to one large allegory” (D. Ashton, A Critical Survey of Philip Guston, Berkeley, 1990, p. 178). Hooded figures, cyclopic heads, pointing fingers, bare bulbs, and a bevy of shoes clutter his late work in a cryptic cacophony of personal narratives. Similar to the simplified two-dimensional space of comic strips that the artist read and learned from in his youth, these tableaus provided brief glimpses into the artist’s subconscious. The glowing lunar orb in Moonlight resembles a dim incandescent bulb that casts its light on the central grouping of shoe soles. These upturned boots appear with some regularity in Guston’s later work, and the bare bulb brings reference to his youth when he would spend his days copying George Herriman’s Krazy Kat and Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff in a closet lit only by a single lamp. “He had finally found a way of depicting his thoughts, dreams, and aspirations, his anger, his morbidity, and his love. Late, but not too late, he had achieved the wholeness that he sought. He had found a way to create paintings that leapt the boundary of ‘painting’ and entered life” (A. Graham-Dixon, “A Maker of Worlds: The Later Paintings of Philip Guston,” in M. Auping ed., Philip Guston: Retrospective, exh. cat., Royal Academy, London, 2004, p. 63). By departing from the formalist realm and entering one that was inextricably linked to personal experience and the subconscious, Guston set the stage for a generation of painters looking to break with tradition.

The artist’s transition from Abstract Expressionism came in part because of his growing frustration and bewilderment with the political climate of the late 1960s and early 70s. The Vietnam War had taken its toll on the minds of the American people, and Guston was no different, saying, “The war, what was happening to America, the brutality of the world, what kind of man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everything—and then going to my studio to adjust a red to blue. [...] I knew that I would need to test painting all over again in order to appease my desires for the clear and sharper enigma of solid forms in an imagined space, a world of tangible things, images, subjects, stories, like the way art always was... I have an uneasy suspicion that painting really doesn’t have to exist at all...unless it questions itself constantly” (P. Guston, quoted in L. Norbet, Philip Guston: Paintings 1969-1980, London, 1982. p. 50). Going against the prevailing critical discourse, Guston left pure abstraction for figuration in an attempt to more fully question his own practice and that of his peers. Disconnecting from the art world in upstate New York, the artist had time to reflect and contemplate on the where painting could possibly fit in a world at war.

更多来自 战后及当代艺术 (晚间拍卖)