Philip Guston (1913-1980)
Philip Guston (1913-1980)
Philip Guston (1913-1980)
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Philip Guston (1913-1980)
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Philip Guston (1913-1980)

Stack (Roma)

Philip Guston (1913-1980)
Stack (Roma)
signed 'Philip Guston' (lower right)
oil on paper
30 1/8 x 40 1/8 in. (76.5 x 101.9 cm.)
Painted in 1971.
Private collection, California
Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco
David Mckee Gallery, New York
Private collection, United States
Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2007
The Guston Foundation, The Philip Guston Catalogue Raisonné, digital, ongoing, no. P71.103 (illustrated).
Boston University Art Gallery, Philip Guston: New Paintings, March-April 1974, no. 26.
London, Achim Moeller Gallery, A Selection of Recent Works by Philip Guston, 1977
San Francisco, Gallery Paule Anglim, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Reuben Nakian, May-June 1980.
New York, Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, Autumn Group Show, August-November 2007.


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“The painting is not on a surface, but on a plane which is imagined. It moves in a mind. It is not there physically at all. It is an illusion, a piece of magic, so that what you see is not what you see.” Philip Guston

Stack (Roma) is an superb example from Philip Guston’s pivotal Roma series. Painted in 1971, Stack (Roma) depicts a monumental stack of nail-studded shoes, rendered with deep pinks and salmons, and situated in an undefined space with a dark foreground. Guston produced his famous Roma series during a six-month stay as artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome. It was his third sojourn in Italy, and during this time Guston travelled extensively, visiting the cities of Orvieto, Florence, and Venice, as well as travelling to Sicily and Greece. On these trips Guston reacquainted himself with the old masters whom he had studied and admired for years, and the influence of Piero della Francesca, Giotto, Tintoretto, and others, began to seep into his paintings. Working with a palate of pink-red coloring, Guston produced striking pictures of Roman gardens and excavation sites, often incorporating his now-famous (but at the time shocking and novel) figurative motifs of hooded figures and nail-studded soles of shoes. These motifs bridge the gap between painting and contemporary social and political events, and begin to symbolize Guston’s own anxieties and sentiments during the tumultuous 1960s and 70s. Indeed there is an alarming hint of violence in Stack (Roma), when once notices the daubs of bloods on the soles of the shoes. In this way, Guston addresses the reality that abstract painting has eschewed, and hints at the turbulent reality of life in American and Europe at the time.

After gaining international recognition as an abstract painter in the 1950s and 1960s, Guston turned away from abstraction and reapplied himself to figurative painting, in an attempt to return to the visible world and the contest between meaning and structure that is bound up in figuration. In 1966 Guston joined Marlborough Gallery, the premier gallery for New York school abstraction at the time, and it was assumed that he would continue to produce abstract paintings. But when his first show at Marlborough in 1970 debuted large-scale paintings of hooded figures in city settings, driving cars, and painting pictures in cramped rooms, it profoundly shocked the New York art world. The show was almost uniformly derided by critics. To many, “it seemed as if one of the leading paintings of the 1950s had gone over to the forces of the new Pop figurations,” Robert Storr wrote. “Some observers, meanwhile, wondered out loud if Guston had been influenced by Robert Crumb’s Zap Comics, and one might also have proposed a connection to the early work of Peter Saul or the political caricatures of Oyvind Fahlstrom. … Guston was not, in fact, following the lead of younger artists, but rather returning to his earliest enthusiasms. For if the dominant poles of his thinking were represented by Piero and Rembrandt—seconded by Mondrian, de Chirico, Picasso, and Beckmann—he had nonetheless remained an avid fan of the movies and of comics such as Mutt and Jeff, Barney Google, and Krazy Kat, which had inspired him as a child.” (R. Storr, Philip Guston, Modern Masters series, New York, 1986, p. 51-52.)

As Guston himself put it, in more simple terms, “I got sick and tired of all that Purity! Wanted to tell Stories” (Ibid, p. 52). When his newly debuted figurative paintings encountered adverse criticism and hostility, Guston, depressed, removed himself from the New York art scene. He left for Italy not long after the Marlborough exhibition opened in the fall of 1970, and spent the next nine months in Europe, during which time he produced his Roma series and the present work, and reaffirmed his commitment to figuration.

Returning to the United States, Guston eventually withdrew from Marlborough Gallery in 1972, and moved all of his unsold paintings up to Woodstock. One year later, in 1973, he began teaching at Boston University. This was the continuation of an important relationship between Guston and Boston University, one which involves Stack (Roma). Guston had been awarded an honorary doctorate of fine arts by the university in 1970, and over the next decade he was given three monographic shows at the University Art Gallery. For his 1974 New Paintings shows, Guston chose Stack (Roma) as one of the only Roma series works to be exhibited alongside his more recent figurative developments. The show included a score of paintings that are now regarded as masterpieces, including Painting, Smoking, Eating, 1973 (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam), and Painter’s Table, 1973 (National Gallery of Art). More than dozen works from the exhibition presently reside in important museum collections.

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