Philip Guston's Shoes is an example of the artist's return to figuration following a distinguished period in which he became one of America's foremost abstract painters. In this work, he uses his signature bold lines to delineate the simple silhouettes against an anonymous backdrop, permeating the work with a distinct sense of enigmatic mystery. Here, Guston shows only the soles of the shoes stacked together-without giving a sense of perspective-his irregular mix of black and red brushstrokes contrasting with the rectangular shapes of the shoes. To this, Guston added a final touch with black dotted patterns to note the stitches of such thick-soled shoes. It is this simple and flat physicality of the shoes that sets a motionless and haunting tone, heightened only by his decision to paint the work with such a limited palette.
The painting's intimate scale only strengthens Guston's personal narrative with this particular object. He produced several other small-scale paintings during this period featuring simplified depictions of everyday objects, including a book, clock, cup, brick, light bulbs, or head that again retained some introspective quality to the artist himself. In this way, these objects become almost self-portraits, articles which both represent, and stand in for, the artist himself. Such motifs were to become the central theme of much of his later figurative artworks, placed either alone or in casual arrangements of various different items. Their reduced forms, together with their symbolic meanings, located in a sparse and condensed background paved the way for a new style of figuration, a genre which had been overlooked ever since the Abstract Expressionism era.