Philip Guston is a master of artistic evolution. He is often cast as an apostate of abstract expressionism—the guy who committed professional suicide by abandoning pure painterly color for crude pictograms of shoes, one-eyed lima bean–shaped heads, and klansmen’s hoods. Guston joined the first wave of abstract expressionism around 1950, following his onetime roommate Jackson Pollock. In typical Guston canvases from the period, layered short strokes of paint formed gauzy clouds of color, which emerged from fields of white. Guston certainly seemed committed to the idea of artistic purity: When Sidney Janis began showing young Pop artists in 1962, Guston protested alongside ab-exers like Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and Adolph Gottlieb by severing ties with the gallery.
But then, in 1967, 10 years after Pollock’s death, Guston seemed to switch sides. Out went Piet Mondrian; in came Krazy Kat. Guston’s 1970 show of new cartoonish figurative work at Marlborough Gallery was savaged by The New York Times’ Hilton Kramer, who wrote: “...in offering us his new style of cartoon anecdotage, Mr. Guston is appealing to a taste for something funky, clumsy and demotic. We are asked to take seriously his new persona as an urban primitive, and this is asking too much.” Kramer didn’t seem interested that Guston had painted figurative murals for a couple of decades before working in abstraction, and he made no connections between the new work and the old. Instead, Guston was cast as jumping on some sort of Pop/new realism/art brut bandwagon.
Please view this intriguing video of his artistic process: