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Philip Guston at The Royal Academy. London UK

From: Skull
Category: Exhibitions
Date: 30 January 2004

Review I wanted to hate this show. I wanted to hate it because all painters love Guston, he makes them gush with enthusiasm for his beautiful ugly funny paintings. The old guy was abstract and went figurative, and we all love the figurey ones, the abstracts are a curiosity of his conversion, just back story.

The Academy was empty: the fuddies and duddies don't like painterly painting as much as the painters, who mercilessly copy Gustons signs ( the eyes etc) and brushiness (worked over canvas).

This show is beautiful. Guston is great. The paintings have enough intensity to defeat all the bombast of reality and biography, and leave you transfixed, with the pictures meeting you in the middle of the space between you. The painting, red, black colours, comes out and proudly, without any pleading or embarrassment, clasps you by the shoulders and holds you steady, in the void that is seeing art. They are strong like giants. And beautiful like Goya. They are as real as MacDonalds and dirty snow, and a beach or a tree.


It must have been the abstracts... look at them carefully, they too are good.. they are not just the marks he will use later, combined with his early social realism. They are difficult. Without meaning. They have much the same meaning as the shoes and kkks, and hands.. That is the point.. not that great painting is signs made with marks, or just marks, or just meaning. That each is different, and the others are irrelevant. That all is the same. That is not right.

What is the point?

I am not sure. I will go back and look again. If we can work out what makes Guston, early, middle, and late, we will be close to the answer of what makes painting. That answer should not be banal because seeing beauty is not dull. The answer can not be performative, (look dont make into words, is not good enough). That answer must approach Guston's greatness.

That answer seems to be that the act of looking at wonderful paintings must also be how life should be approached or conceived.

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