Philip Guston, a Canadian artist, portrayed the anxious world of the 20th century through his art. His work is now featured in a major retrospective at the Tate Modern gallery in London.
Throughout his life, he protested against violence and racial injustice in his art, evolving from Mexican muralism, to abstraction and satirical figuration.
What kind of man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, enraged by everything and then going into my studio to adapt a red to a blue?he once asked, highlighting the influence of real-life events on his art.
According to the Tate Modern, Guston
was a complex artist who drew inspiration from the nightmarish world around him to create new and surprising images. The gallery’s exhibit explores how his work connected the personal and the political.
The exhibition includes an exploration of his time in Mexico in 1934, where he created a protest mural titled The fight against terrorism. The mural is projected in the gallery, allowing visitors to view it on a large scale.
The mural is a bold work that depicts resistance against the Spanish Inquisition, Nazism, and hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Guston used his art
to protest against the terrifying events shaping the world around him.
The retrospective includes over 100 pieces of Guston’s work, offering insight into his formative years, activism, and celebrated period of abstraction.
▲ Guston with Reuben Kadish and Jules Langsner, with whom he created the mural in Michoacán.Photo from Tate Modern
Born in Montreal, Canada, in 1913 to Jewish immigrants, Guston was self-educated and drawn to cartoons, the Italian Renaissance, surrealism, and Mexican muralism.
He was interested in communism and left-wing ideas from a young age, and involved in the civil rights movements in the 1960s. He used comic book style and satire to create striking images, including his distinctive Ku Klux Klan figures.
His life and childhood, inspiration
Guston evolved through different styles, becoming a celebrated abstract painter in the 1950s and 1960s. He developed his most characteristic style in the late 60s, drawing mysterious figures inspired by his life and childhood.
In a period of social upheaval, he critiqued abstraction with comic figures symbolizing evil. These works established him as one of the most influential painters of the 20th century.
Some of his most popular works were created late at night in his studio in the 1970s, such as Monument (1976) and Sleeping (1977). Although initially not well-received, they later influenced other artists.