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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2003


 

Guston in Time: Remembering Philip Guston

by Ross Feld

The Poet and the Painter

A review by Anna Godbersen

Mid-career, and at the height of his reputation, the painter Philip Guston exhibited a series of new works that departed radically from the abstract expressionist style for which he was known. These new paintings — cartoon-like, macabre, and littered with everyday objects — caused an art-world scandal, alienating and confusing many of his supporters. But when the young poet Ross Feld went to see them, he found the new paintings remarkable. He wrote an essay celebrating them for an art magazine, and it sparked a personal and intellectual connection between the two men that lasted until Guston's death in 1980. Before his own death in 2001, Feld completed Guston in Time, a memoir of their friendship. It is an unsparing look at the painter and the work, remarkable for its intimacy and intelligence. Much of Feld's book is a loving investigation of the later paintings; of the repeated images (hoodlums, limbs, light bulbs) that make them up, and of the zeal and sincerity with which Guston painted. Feld describes the older man as only a familiar could. We are shown his manner of speech, his physicality, his anxieties about art and life. Each chapter is paired with one of Guston's letters, which give an idea of how manic and voracious their conversations must have been. What is most moving here is how these two spurred each other on in their thinking and their art. Feld so obviously felt that Guston was, as he told him in a letter, "the only painter on which it [was] even remotely possible to write intelligently."


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