Philip Guston and abstracting an object

I am currently exploring Philip Guston’s abstract interpretation of objects – and relating it to my own ideas of abstraction and identity. His work is sometimes figurative, allowing us to easily read the images – he does not necessarily give a realistic representation but definitely a recognisable one. Other works, for example his works below, use gestural line and shape in a very abstract and distorted way, challenging our perceptions of common place objects or subject matter. I think these are interesting works that challenge our perception of the physical and familiar, questioning our comfort with an abstract interpretation of what we feel we know. Our relationships with the objects that he represents changes as a result of our inability to clearly recognise them, the way we value and view what Guston for example paints as a chair is altered by our inability to trust his interpretation based on our clear value system if what a chair is, looks like and should be represented as.

“Neither figurative nor fully abstract, the content of these images is the elusiveness of their being. Emblems of immanence, each image hovers between presence and absence, focus and dissolution. Their ambiguous identity is a function of temporal as well as spatial consideration”

Storr, R. (1983). Philip Guston. New York: Abbeville Press

Gustons work is of particular interest to me and is resonant with the concept of memory and identity that I am attempting to explore. The idea of work being both present and absent is something I am interested in developing within my own practise. By abstracting imagery Guston changes the way people interact with the subject matter, its essence and identity. Something that I feel links in with dementia and identity, in a way the illness abstracts the identity of the person, so that like Gustons work, the physical representation of the individual cannot be ignored yet the lack of identity and lack of definition makes the individual strangely absent. The relationship that we have with the works of Guston, it could be argued, are parallel to the way we relate to an individual with an identity challenging disorder such as dementia, for example the person that you are faced with is familiar to you, yet the way in which you interact with them is altered by your knowledge that they are not the ‘whole’ person. Drawing back again to Gustons work, the abstraction that we are viewing is so far away from the recognisable identity of the original objects that it is difficult for us to relate to them, something resonant of the dementia process. A concept that I intend to question in my own work, exploring the abstraction of imagery relating to ‘the handbag’ in order to understand boundaries of identity.

Philip Guston ‘Untitled’, 1963 © The Estate of Philip GustonPhilip Guston ‘Untitled’, 1966 © The Estate of Philip GustonPhilip Guston ‘Untitled’, 1966 © The Estate of Philip GustonPhilip Guston ‘The Return’, 1956–8 © The Estate of Philip GustonPhilip Guston ‘Untitled’, 1966 © The Estate of Philip GustonPhilip Guston ‘Objects’, 1980 © The Estate of Philip Guston


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