First published on 9 June 2018
Philip Guston exhibition at Hauser reviewed by Caroline Chiu
Caroline Chiu is a Hong Kong based art critic and collector who has been presenting Caroline Chiu Studio Art Reviews with Hong Kong radio station RTHK4 since 2005.
In this podcast episode, published in a collaboration between Chiu and Ocula, the Hong Kong based critic reviews the exhibition Philip Guston: A Painter's Forms, 1950–1979 at Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong that was on view from 29 May to 25 August 2018. Curated by Musa Mayer, Guston's daughter, the show featured almost 50 paintings and drawings from the last three decades of an artist who tirelessly experimented with form and new narratives. As the second exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong, A Painter's Forms was concurrently the first in Asia to focus solely on Guston's work.
Chiu discusses a selection of works from the exhibition, noting Guston's trademark use of pink throughout his long and prolific career that spanned almost half a century. Riding Around (1969) depicts three hooded figures, a leitmotif in his later figurative works, while The Poet (1975) reflects the artist's affinity with illustrating poems for his wife and poet Musa McKim (as well as others' that she admired). Chiu also touches upon the drawings Guston made in the 1950s and 1960s that broke off with his earlier figurative paintings and ventured into the language of pure abstraction.
Philip Guston was born in 1913 in Montreal, Canada, and moved to California with his family when he was just six. He studied at the Otis Art Institute in 1930—for a brief period of three months—and moved to New York in 1935. In the early stages of his career, Guston painted with a figurative style influenced by Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico, and Diego Rivera, among others. Guston worked as a muralist in New York City with Work Progress Administration (WPA) programme until 1940.
In the early 1950s, Guston transitioned to abstraction, becoming a pioneer of the Abstract Expressionist movement alongside contemporaries Jackson Pollock (also a friend from Otis), Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Experimenting with diverse forms and short brushstrokes, he maintained a restricted palette of grays, blacks, and pinks.
Despite his success as an AbEx painter, however, Guston would return to figuration in the late 1960s, a decision partly driven by the violence and social unrest of the period. Among the recurring motifs that came to inhabit his later humorous, ominous, and cartoonish paintings—which lasted until he passed away in 1980—encompass hooded figures redolent of Ku Klux Klan, eyeballs, cigarettes, and lightbulbs. Through such ordinary and personal images, Guston sought to interrogate the contradictory forces that govern our lives, including the artist's own.