Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Imagery Creeps Back
By the 60’s, Gustons’ anguished self-questioning, the weight of decision with which he invested each stroke, seemed a Romantic excess, especially in the light of the cooler and more removed Pop Art that was beginning to emerge at the time.
Things had really begun to shift ideologically with Pop Art and its emptying out of the so-called heroic aims of the abstract expressionists... the earnestness of Postwar abstraction seemed outmoded. Limitless reproducibility was the reigning concept and aesthetic. Pop Art mocked consumer culture but also the cult of difficulty associated with the abstract expressionist. Unwittingly, Guston’s career came to symbolize the embattled fate of abstract expressionism in a new era.
Eventually, in the mid 1960’s Guston’s desire to re-incorporate recognizable forms creeped back. Although he resisted it at first, feeling a polarization between non-objective abstraction and its purity of purpose and his innate need to tell stories through recognizable forms and archetypes. He began to feel that the purely abstract works were hollow, missing something. His initial steps back into figuration were rough sketches of the concrete simple objects around him in his studio – where he spent most of his time.
Guston had virtually abandoned painting at this time, producing instead hundreds of drawings in ink, brush, and charcoal. He was simultaneously making drawings of shoes, canvases, paintbrushes, lightbulbs, cigarettes, easels as well as more abstract drawings, sometimes comprised of only a single line or two. These parallel practices yielded an immediate, straightforward pictorial style that revolved around the line – rather than contemplating each stroke and achieving effects through indirect layering – the lines became the objects themselves spontaneously. The drawings began to be about the creative act itself – generating images with a directness and focused intensity and clarity of purpose that his work hadn’t had before.