It’s as if de Chirico went to bed with a hangover and had a Krazy Kat dream about America falling apart… John Perrault on Philip Guston, 1970
Philip Guston is never far from my mind. He’s been in the news because a planned retrospective of his work was postponed over worry that his pictures of hooded figures might be seen as an endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. Following an outcry the museum grandees backpedaled and put the show back on the calendar. I wonder what Guston would’ve made of the inchoate mess of overreach and virtue-signaling made over pictures which are about inner responsibility and guilt. The people who tried to hide these paintings from a public they judged too stupid to decide for themselves were mostly worried about what would be thought of them. I wonder if they’d spent any time actually looking at the art?
I’ve been rereading Musa Mayer’s Night Studio. I remembered the book having a powerful effect on me when I first read it in the early 90s. It details what life is like for the child of an artist. It likely went some way in reinforcing my instinct that having children would be a bad idea if I was to continue on the path I was on. The book stayed on my mind enough to name a painting after it (above). It was made in a studio apartment in Brighton, Massachusetts around 1995.
A few years later in Chicago when I started getting tattoos I thought of Guston again. I almost got one of his Klansman but was talked out of it. Maybe tattooists occasionally get worried about appearances just like museum trustees do. I settled on one of his life of the artist paintings. I couldn’t find a drawing to bring to the shop, so I drew my own version. Bob Lindell’s rendition is on the right side of my gut to this day. It’s also been my avatar on many long-dead blogs and social media platforms. Guston gives and gives and gives.
The only good thing to come out of the controversy over Guston’s retrospective is that my ex-wife read about it and sent me the catalogue for the show that may or may not happen for my fiftieth birthday. It’s a beautiful book full of amazing pictures that I’ve loved for a long long time.
Can’t wait to see the show when we can all take our hoods off.
p.s. I reviewed Damian Rogers’ great book about her mother, dementia, and memory.