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Guston in Time: Remembering Philip Guston

Guston in Time: Remembering Philip Guston

by Ross Feld, Richard Howard (Introduction)

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In the years following his controversial 1970 exhibition at the Marlborough Galleries, Philip Guston was generally viewed as yesterday’s scandal, a maverick who had abandoned abstract expressionism and, with it, the adulation of the art world. Few paid serious attention to the disturbing, profound work he was producing in his Woodstock studio. So when Ross


In the years following his controversial 1970 exhibition at the Marlborough Galleries, Philip Guston was generally viewed as yesterday’s scandal, a maverick who had abandoned abstract expressionism and, with it, the adulation of the art world. Few paid serious attention to the disturbing, profound work he was producing in his Woodstock studio. So when Ross Feld, a young novelist and critic, wrote a penetrating review of Guston’s latest show, the artist sent him a letter of appreciation: “I felt . . . as if we knew each other and had many discussions about painting and literature. In a word—I felt recognition.”

Thus began a remarkable friendship. Feld, a frequent visitor to Guston’s studio where the two men would talk late into the night, became Guston’s intellectual sparring partner and sounding board—“I’ll shout it right out,” Guston wrote to Feld, “you inspire me to paint again!”—as well as the artist’s most eloquent critic and champion. Guston in Time is Feld’s final tribute, and it is at once a testament to a friendship, a provocative and richly nuanced study of one of the twentieth century’s most important artists, and a portrait of a remarkable character.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The appearance of the critic, novelist and poet Feld's engaging memoir of his late friend the painter Philip Guston (1913-1980) records a double loss, for Feld died in 2001, shortly after its completion. And although the book functions as a moving memorial to a deep and supportive friendship, Feld the critic forgoes the tired parade of anecdotes common to the personal memoir to keep a keen focus on Guston's work, especially the paintings of his last years. Scott Fitzgerald's "there are no second acts in American lives" has been disproved over and over again; Guston added a third act that was unlike anything in the history of art, American or otherwise. Beginning as a muralist in the great Mexican social realist tradition, Guston went on, as many before him, to become an abstract expressionist, but one of uncommon lyric power. But late in his career, Guston returned to figuration, employing motifs from early work (such as hooded Klan figures, now with cigars) and truncated self-portraiture (eyes, heads and enormous-footed sleeping figures) that seemed derived as much from Robert Crumb and the Sunday funnies as from the "historical tradition." Feld's readings of a number of these paintings, informed by his intimacy with the artist, are near-definitive models of passionate clarity and explication. Interwoven with these readings are similarly vivid glimpses of a troubled but lovable man, and the friends-including Philip Roth, composer Morton Feldman and poet Clark Coolidge-whose devotion to Guston is equally palpable. The book is valuable, too, for the light it sheds on the often ill-understood reciprocal nature of the relationships between artists and critics. For just as it is clear that for Guston Feld's articulate support was crucial, Guston's responses to Feld's criticism and other work seems just as important. Guston himself is abundantly present, not only in Feld's reminiscences and the well-chosen illustrations, but in the many letters to Feld that are included. Such generosity is typical of this remarkable volume, which recalls Rilke's "Letters on Cezanne" in its joyful intensity. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Following his much-derided break from pure abstract art, the American artist Philip Guston (1913-80) wrote a letter to the novelist and critic Feld (Zwilling's Dream), initiating a stimulating friendship that would span the last five years of Guston's life. Prior to his own death in 2001, Feld assembled this collection of personal reminiscences and anecdotes from his dynamic interaction with one of 20th-century America's most enigmatic artists. Though perfectly timed to correspond with the retrospective exhibition of Guston's work organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (see Michael Auping's excellent Philip Guston Retrospective), this biography/remembrance/collected letters suffers from a lack of identity and focus. Rather than a critical analysis of Guston's late work, it is a record of the intellectual sparring match between two dear friends. Each chapter of the book's first section begins with a letter or excerpt, but these are not fully identified or reproduced in full in the otherwise chronological compilation of letters that follows. The "Letters" section offers a wonderful epistolary record of the dialog between artist and writer; however, the format and arrangement of the book hinders any straightforward examination of the letters. Recommended only for libraries wishing to supplement existing Guston scholarship.-Kraig Binkowski, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A concise interpretive biography and memoir of the renegade Abstract Expressionist by his friend, the late novelist Feld (Zwilling’s Dream, 1999, etc.), for many years a Kirkus reviewer. Philip Guston (1913–80) is perhaps best known for his scandalous conversion to figurative art in 1970 at the height of his career as an Abstract Expressionist, contemporary of Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Feld’s account of Guston, while briefly covering his early life and career as a card-carrying AbEx, is primarily an affectionate homage to the artist and the works he created after his change of style, the period when Feld (who died in 2001) knew him personally. Punctuated by letters from Guston that allow the artist to speak for himself, the author describes and analyzes the deeply personal works from the last decade of Guston’s life that he believes are his friend’s landmark paintings. Feld escorts the reader through Guston’s idiosyncratic iconography and in a loosely chronological fashion easily moves from anecdote to analysis of paintings. Guston’s intellect, his curiosity, his generosity, his "nearly limitless appetite for talk," and his insecurity are all fodder for this candid tale of an artist whose late works have acquired a contemporary influence inconceivable at the time of their creation. Feld’s effortless prose sets the reader in the studio, in the kitchen, in an Italian restaurant, as he captures his friend’s animus. An added bonus is the inclusion of the pair’s correspondence (minus the Guston letters quoted in the main text) in an appendix, which allows the reader to observe the evolution of this energetic intellectual and personal friendship. As good an introduction to classicGuston as one will find, not merely as an artist but as an intellectual. (18 b&w photos) (A major Philip Guston retrospective is appearing now through September at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; October through January at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and at the Royal Academy in London in 2004.)

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Counterpoint Press
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4.80(w) x 8.44(h) x 0.45(d)

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