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


Study skills – Dadaism, Man Ray and questioning logic

This Thursday we had a study skills session with Mahnaz Shah, it was a session that I found really beneficial – it was all about the idea of questioning, and what is a question?
We were introduced to the fundamental idea that everything can be and should be questioned, and that the most interesting research areas are those that we think are simple but that we really want to investigate. It was emphasised to us that as artists we should not be satisfied with the ‘logical’ answers to anything, for example what is presented to us as a chair should not be blindly accepted as a chair but questioned, researched and investigated from various angles.
We looked at this notion through ideas present in the Dada movement, looking into the work of Man Ray. Dada’s intent was to reject the logic and reason of humanity – the logic and reason that throughout history has led to conflict and war. Dadaism wanted to challenge us instead to question and reject our understanding of what logic is, and begin to value the nonsensical and irrational over this.  This movement aimed to do this through artwork that allowed us to question our relationship between objects and people, examining the relationship between our ability to discard and use objects to serve their purpose and the parallel attitudes we develop towards people in the context of war.

Examples of the work of Man Ray

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Our task was to investigate the following letter, and to discuss in groups a potential research strand that we would take in investigating it,


This is a letter that Man Ray wrote in reflection of the events between the start of Dadaism in response to the horrors of the First World, and its apparent failure to make an impact on our attitude towards war after the Second World War took place.  We decided to pose the following question, ‘Can something be both alive and dead?’, we discussed whether something that existed and impacted our view on history can ever really die. A fixed point in history may not still be evolving and therefore be viewed as dead, yet at the same time its very existence in our understanding of history and what was built from it means that is always still alive.

I really benefitted from this session, and found it really interesting and challenging in the way it provoked a new channel of thinking. I feel that I can really take what I’ve learnt about questioning, researching and also the general notions behind the Dada movement and apply it to the current project of ‘Outside Inside’ that I am currently undertaking.

Handbag Dissection

The handbag is a common object, an object that conveniently allows us to carry around purses, phones, keys and a number of daily necessities. However, for many women with dementia it becomes so much more than this – becoming a small world for them to cling to when their own world begins to fall apart. It becomes the last symbol they have of independence, privacy and identity, allowing them a small sense of control and ownership as their own bodies and minds become subject to care and dependence.

I wanted to explore how I could use the symbol of a handbag to investigate identity, and so decided to tear a handbag apart, considering how this compared to the development of dementia.

I separated  each part of the bag until I had a series of pieces, these I then laid out onto a piece of paper.
Doing this allowed me to investigate the object as a whole, exploring it as an object – and as a series of parts.
I found it an interesting exercise, as each part began to unravel, it’s use as a bag became less and less possible but in unravelling it I had more of an insight into how it was held together when it was functional.
I began to consider how much of the bag I could take away until its identity became a mystery and found that there were some elements of the bag that gave away more information than others, these parts I grouped together and recorded through drawing.
Dementia takes away bit by bit the memories that make up who you are, it calls into question your identity and wipes away your own life from your own mind. This exercise has allowed me to begin to consider how much of something can be taken away before it becomes unrecognisable. It is just a brief start, barely scratching the surface but I intend to process and explore this idea further, as well as investigating the importance of the symbolic nature, and of the functional nature of the handbag to a woman with dementia.

Images of dissecting bag #2


Photographer Todd McLellen used similar ideas in his photography works ‘Disassembly series’, these images explore the dis assemblage of everyday objects.Through his photographs, McLellen offers us a new perspective and view on objects that are often overlooked. He highlights the complexity and intricate details of practical objects often valued solely for for their function.

Deconstructed Objects by Todd McLellanSmartphone, 2007; BlackBerry by Todd McLellan via this is colossal #Photography #Disassembly #Todd_McClellanTODD MCLELLAN MOTION/STILLS INC - • Things Come ApartIn his latest series UK-based photographer Todd McLellan takes old technology

I aim to explore these kinds of ideas through my own practise, exploring the narrative that an everyday object such as a handbag can actually offer us when investigated.

Starting the project

The theme that we were all given as a fine art group was ‘Outside/Inside’, from this starting point I began to consider various subjects that I could explore. I began to consider the idea of ‘identity’ but exploring when an individuals internal sense of identity begins to change (as a result of a condition such as dementia), yet physically and externally they remain disaffected. As I began to look into this idea of identity I came across an interesting article entitled ‘Women with dementia and their handbags: Negotiating identity, privacy and ‘home’ through material culture’ written by Christina Buse and Julia Twigg, this really fascinated me and I intend to respond to the ideas present in this article. Investigating how to visualise ‘the materialisation of an interior breakdown’, exploring the growth in the importance of handbags, shoes, clothing and other objects when an individual begins to lose their privacy, memories and internal sense of self.

Here are few sketches that I did to get started.

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Alongside my practical work there is obviously a need for contextualization – both through exploring practitioners and theories linked with the work I am creating. As well as my blog I will be keeping a hand written journal with updates and critiques of what I am doing. I will also be developing a pinterest board with images from artists that I am looking at. The pinterest board address is:

Starting up my blog

Sadly to admit that in the 21st century this is the first time I’ve ever created a blog. I’m feeling quite out of touch with technology at the moment!!
Its my 4th week studying Fine Art in Cardiff Metropolitan University (at least I think its my fourth week, its all gone past really quickly and its amazing how much has changed in such a short space of time), but  I can honestly say that going to university has been one of the best decisions I have made. I have met so many interesting people, learnt so much already and feel my brain being stretched in so many new directions.
As part of our studies, we have all been asked to keep a blog alongside our briefs, lectures and projects – just keeping up to date with how the different areas of studies are developing  – documenting what I am doing, contextualising and supporting the work I create and tracking my response to what I am learning in lectures and research. A reflective journal, but whilst saving the trees!
So this is it really, my blog beginnings, lets give it a go.