Acrylic on panel
76.2 x 81.28 cm / 30 x 32 in

Philip Guston

Philip Guston (1913 – 1980) is one of the great luminaries of twentieth-century art. His commitment to producing work from genuine emotion and lived experience ensures its enduring impact. Guston’s legendary career spanned a half-century, from 1930 to 1980. His paintings – particularly the liberated and instinctual forms of his late work – continue to exert a powerful influence on younger generations of contemporary painters


The civil unrest that plagued Philip Guston’s childhood permeated his work like ink in water. Born Philip Goldstein to Jewish immigrants from Odessa who had fled the Russian pogroms, Guston grew up in Los Angeles in a period of rampant Ku Klux Klan activity in the area. The KKK was able to brazenly carry out attacks against African Americans, Jews, Catholics and other minorities while openly participating in local government as respected civic leaders—in Anaheim, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the KKK was the dominant political force in the early 1920s, with Klansmen holding four of five City Council seats until 1924.  Depictions of masked and hooded figures—which the artist referred to as ‘hoods’—emerged very early in Guston’s career in work from the 1930s. These figures were both overt references to the Klansmen as symbols of oppression as well as a general commentary on the rise of right-wing extremism.

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Celebrating Basel Basel

By 1968, Guston had abandoned abstraction altogether, rediscovering the narrative power he had known as a young man in his murals and early figurative works, newly informed by a painterly sensibility forged in abstraction. This liberation led to the most productive period of his creative life. In part, they were related to the Ku Klux Klan, an American white supremacist group with a long history of lynching and racial violence. A major exhibition of this period of Guston’s work titled ‘Philip Guston: Paintings 1969-1980’, was held just three years after his death in 1980 at Kunsthalle Basel, travelling from Whitechapel Gallery and Stedelijk Museum.