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Philip Guston. The Clock. 1956-57

A Clock?

Despite its title, a clock never appears anywhere in this painting. Guston suggests an object by clustering brushwork and intense color at the center of the canvas, but he never portrays anything concrete...

“We are image-makers and image-ridden.”

Despite its title, a clock never appears anywhere in this painting. Guston suggests an object by clustering brushwork and intense color at the center of the canvas, but he never portrays anything concrete. Like many of his peers, Philip Guston began his career as a figurative painter, and this work hints at a kind of image-making that he abandoned—but did not forget—during his foray into abstraction.

Between Abstraction and the Image

In the early 1950s Guston developed a very distinctive and idiosyncratic style. While his contemporaries, such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, used broad, sweeping gestures to create their monumental images, Guston built up his compositions from small brushstrokes in a limited range of closely valued hues...

In the early 1950s Guston developed a very distinctive and idiosyncratic style. While his contemporaries, such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, used broad, sweeping gestures to create their monumental images, Guston built up his compositions from small brushstrokes in a limited range of closely valued hues. In many of these paintings, he applied the pigment in crosshatched strokes that grew denser, thicker, and more intense in color as they approached the center of the canvas.

The hazy, atmospheric qualities of these paintings often recalled the airy landscapes of French Impressionist painters like Claude Monet and Pierre-August Renoir, and a number of critics began referring to Guston’s style as “Abstract Impressionism.” While this term points more to his affinity with the Impressionists than to their direct influence on his work, it nevertheless captures a tension between representation and abstraction that became more and more decisive during the next two decades of his career. “We are image-makers and image-ridden,” he wrote, and the clumps of irregular forms that crowd the center of The Clock and other works of this period suggest a solidity and physical presence in a way that the abstractions of his contemporaries seldom did.

1968 and After

During the late 1960s, Guston abandoned abstraction altogether and began painting everyday objects and politically charged figures in a cartoonish style. This return to the image, he argued, was a rejection of aestheticism in favor of social responsibility...

During the late 1960s, Guston abandoned abstraction altogether and began painting everyday objects and politically charged figures in a cartoonish style. This return to the image, he argued, was a rejection of aestheticism in favor of social responsibility. As he famously remarked, “What kind of a man am I, sitting at home, reading magazines, going into a frustrated fury about everythingand then going into my studio to adjust a red to a blue.” This mixture of conviction and self-doubt permeated his paintings for the rest of his life. Many of his late works feature bumbling, clownish Klansmen and objects such as beer bottles, shoes, clocks, and the cigarettes he constantly smoked.

When they were first exhibited, these paintings caused enormous controversy. Yet Guston’s audacious return to figuration invigorated a younger generation of artists, including Carroll Dunham, Susan Rothenberg, and Terry Winters, who looked on his late work with admiration. While few younger painters took up image-making with the same moral urgency, they nevertheless followed the path he forged from Abstract Expressionism back to representation.

New York School

The Abstract Expressionists are sometimes called New York School artists. There wasn't any actual "New York School" where artists took classes; rather, the term is shorthand for a loose association of avant-garde artists...

The Abstract Expressionists are sometimes called New York School artists. There wasn't any actual "New York School" where artists took classes; rather, the term is shorthand for a loose association of avant-garde artists who lived in New York in the mid-twentieth century, and who made art in the Abstract Expressionist style. The New York School artists established a meeting place in New York's Greenwich Village, The Club, which became a hub of Abstract Expressionist debates and activities from 1949 to around 1960.

In addition to describing visual artists, the term "New York School" has also been applied to a group of poets that included Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, and a group of composers that included John Cage and Morton Feldman. Less directly, it can refer to many dancers, choreographers, prose writers, and jazz musicians. Many of the key figures in each of these circles formed close personal and aesthetic relationships, collaborating and sharing creative influences across different mediums.

Paint

Paint is most often a combination of pigment, binder, and solvent. Pigment is the colored portion of the paint. It is often a finely ground material that is either found in nature or artificially produced...

Paint is most often a combination of pigment, binder, and solvent. Pigment is the colored portion of the paint. It is often a finely ground material that is either found in nature or artificially produced. Binder holds the individual grains of pigment together. In oil paint, the most common binder is linseed oil, which typically dries to the touch in about one week. The binder in most acrylic paint is an acrylic resin; the binder in watercolor paint is a natural resin called gum arabic. Solvent is a liquid that thins the paint. The most common solvent in oil painting is turpentine. Water is the solvent for acrylic emulsion and watercolor paints.

Tint, Shade and Tone

In painting, a tint is a color plus white, a shade is a color plus black...

In painting, a tint is a color plus white, a shade is a color plus black, and a tone is a color plus gray.

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Philip Guston (American, born Canada. 1913–1980)

The Clock

Date:
1956-57
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
6' 4" x 64 1/8" (193.1 x 163 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Bliss Parkinson
MoMA Number:
659.1959
Copyright:
© 2014 The Estate of Philip Guston
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