A concise interpretive biography and memoir of the renegade Abstract Expressionist by his friend, the late novelist Feld (Zwilling’s Dream, 1999, etc.), for many years a Kirkus reviewer.
Philip Guston (1913–80) is perhaps best known for his scandalous conversion to figurative art in 1970 at the height of his career as an Abstract Expressionist, contemporary of Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Feld’s account of Guston, while briefly covering his early life and career as a card-carrying AbEx, is primarily an affectionate homage to the artist and the works he created after his change of style, the period when Feld (who died in 2001) knew him personally. Punctuated by letters from Guston that allow the artist to speak for himself, the author describes and analyzes the deeply personal works from the last decade of Guston’s life that he believes are his friend’s landmark paintings. Feld escorts the reader through Guston’s idiosyncratic iconography and in a loosely chronological fashion easily moves from anecdote to analysis of paintings. Guston’s intellect, his curiosity, his generosity, his “nearly limitless appetite for talk,” and his insecurity are all fodder for this candid tale of an artist whose late works have acquired a contemporary influence inconceivable at the time of their creation. Feld’s effortless prose sets the reader in the studio, in the kitchen, in an Italian restaurant, as he captures his friend’s animus. An added bonus is the inclusion of the pair’s correspondence (minus the Guston letters quoted in the main text) in an appendix, which allows the reader to observe the evolution of this energetic intellectual and personal friendship.
As good an introduction to classic Guston as one will find, not merely as an artist but as an intellectual. (18 b&w photos) (A major Philip Guston retrospective is appearing now through September at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; October through January at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and at the Royal Academy in London in 2004.)