“Out of every living thing, one is born,” said painter Philip Guston once of his work.
The headline writer at The Times took him at his word, and published, in a provocative 1980 retrospective in New York, the four-word summation of his photographic imagery: “Time is a painting on canvas.” The post was published under Guston’s name, but it was taken down in 1991.
It was an elegant description of what is to some extent a visual still-life painting, in that his works simply show the form of the present to be represented by a minimalist line. But Guston often depicts contemporary events in a discordant, exploratory fashion. That, and the roughness of his strokes, appeals to his earliest fans, including Andy Warhol, who called Guston’s paintings “heroic.”
But Guston is also intensely controversial. One collector has cited him as a “undeniable genius,” which is a nice way of dismissing a figure who has been called “arrogant,” “drunk on the power of his mastery” and, for better or worse, “a fight-or-flight man.”