The Guston Foundation confirms that this lot will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Philip Guston.
An abundance of lavishly painted imagery populates the artist’s world in Philip Guston’s Summer Kitchen Still Life, a brilliant encapsulation of many of Guston’s most significant, personal motifs. As if arranged within a vast, theatrical stage-set, the disorder of the artist’s studio is tinged with a strange and melancholic beauty. A jumbled heap of discarded cigarettes, a full cup of coffee, a halfeaten pastrami sandwich, and an exquisitely rendered tower of bright red cherries are tenderly painted, as Guston expends the poetics of his soul upon these, the personal artifacts of his daily life. “Behind his studio door he works on as if back in the closet of his youth,” writes Guston’s friend, the writer William Corbett. “His images...are at the door, knocking” (W. Corbett, Philip Guston’s Late Work: A Memoir, Hanover, 1998, p. 101). Painted in the final years of his life, Summer Kitchen Still Life exemplifies the last, great flourishing in Guston’s final cycle of paintings. This poignant vignette was inscribed and dedicated to Ed Blatter, an electrician and carpenter who helped with physical jobs around Guston’s studio in Woodstock, New York, and it provides an insightful window into the artist’s world. “The profusion of images he produced late in life,” writes the critic Dore Ashton, “can be compared to Picasso’s last, immense cycle of drawings in which all the motifs of his lifetime parade in a grand finale and add up to one large allegory” (D. Ashton, A Critical Survey of Philip Guston, Berkeley, 1990, p. 178).
Painted between 1978 and 1979, Summer Kitchen Still Life exemplifies the autobiographical quality of Guston’s final series of paintings created in the remaining two years before his death in 1980. The tools of the artist’s trade have been arranged within the sloping flat plane of the kitchen table, as if standing upon some steeply-graded hill, blanketed within a sumptuous, pale green background. The undulating band of the artist’s wristwatch, the stacked tier of cherries with their pert, brown stems, and the half-eaten remains of his sandwich are imbued with the personal poetics of Guston’s idiosyncratic style, an unrivaled marriage of realism and abstraction that crystallized in this last, great period. These meticulously modeled relics speak to the day-to-day realities of the artist’s life, ranging from its most mundane to its most exquisite. The tedium evoked by the artist’s wristwatch and the large clock that presides over the table works in tandem with the bare light bulb hanging over the scene to illustrate the monotony of Guston’s ceaseless quest. Stubbed-out cigarettes and an open book are presented alongside a full cup of coffee, while nearby a delicate tower of red cherries imparts a much-needed burst of splendid color. “There is nothing to do now but paint my life,” the artist wrote in 1972, and indeed, these insightful windows into Guston’s world are carefully calibrated creations that merge the quotidien with the poetic, marked by bursts of epic beauty. “Even in the most disturbing paintings of his recent period,” wrote Dore Ashton in her classic study of the artist’s work, “Guston leaps into little ceremonial dances--those flourishes of his brush that can only be seen as tributes to beauty” (D. Ashton, Ibid., p. 178).
In 1968, Guston made a deliberate decision to return to figuration. Living a relatively isolated life in Woodstock, New York, Guston turned inward, unplugging his phone for days at a time and severing his contract with Marlborough Gallery in October of 1972. He began the arduous process of recalling all of his old paintings from the gallery. “I am alone and at last ‘all together,’” Guston described. “I need to build more storage space...It feels strange to be completely cut off from the city. I feel like burrowing in again—to be a miner and not surface for a while” (P. Guston, quoted in D. Ashton, Ibid., p. 173). Embarking upon a sustained and relentless investigation into the objects that populated his daily life and his most significant personal motifs, Guston spent the better part of the 1970s creating the cast of characters for which his work is now celebrated: the hooded figures, the one-eyed artist, his wife, Musa, and the myriad objects of his everyday life in the studio. The clocks, books, and cherries on the artist’s table—along with the bare lightbulb—are some of the most familiar participants in Guston’s final cycle of paintings. “The more I painted,” he remarked, “the more mysterious these objects became. The visible world, I think, is abstract and mysterious enough, I don’t think one needs to depart from it in order to make art” (P. Guston, quoted in K. Stiles and P. Selz, eds., Philip Guston Talking: Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, Berkeley, 1996, p. 250).
Guston’s particularly idiosyncratic style reaches its culmination in Summer Kitchen Still Life—a poetic distillation of his figurative style imbued with an expressive force perhaps only rivaled in the work of Cézanne’s tablescapes or Van Gogh’s still lives. In merging elements of figuration with abstraction, Guston hit upon his own distinct brand of painting that crystallized during his last decade. Indeed, the artist’s last set of paintings is widely considered to be one of his greatest, making for a culmination of a lifetime of relentless exploration. His unwavering commitment to a figurative style was initially lambasted by his critics but now remains as one of the most significant contributions to the field of modern art.“ He had finally found a way of depicting his thoughts, dreams, and aspirations, his anger, his morbidity, and his love. Late, but not too late, he had achieved the wholeness that he sought. He had found a way to create paintings that leapt the boundary of ‘painting’ and entered life” (A. Graham-Dixon, “A Maker of Worlds: The Later Paintings of Philip Guston,” in M. Auping ed., Philip Guston: Retrospective, exh. cat., Royal Academy, London, 2004, p. 63).