Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: May 10, 2022
Guston in Time
by Ross Feld
The late paintings of Philip Guston have had a profound influence on painters today. As time has passed and Guston’s star has risen, it has been forgotten how scandalous and crude these paintings, with their cartoonish imagery and curiously faltering application of paint, were initially deemed to be. The 1970 show at the Marlborough Gallery in which Guston, abandoning the delicate abstract expressionist style for which he was known, revealed his new style was critically savaged. In the aftermath of this drubbing, Guston retreated to his studio in Woodstock, New York—in part to nurse his wounds but, more important, to go on painting exactly as he saw fit.
Ross Feld, a young poet, novelist, and critic, was one of the few reviewers of Guston’s show to write favorably about it. Guston responded with a grateful note and a new friendship was soon born. Feld became an inveterate visitor to the painter’s and an inspiration to his work. Guston in Time, written not long before Feld’s early death from cancer, is a portrait of Guston the man; of his wife, Musa, a major figure not only in his life but in his work; and a reckoning with his supremely individual achievement as an artist. Feld’s slim and resonant book is a work of art in its own right.
A retrospective of Guston’s work, Philip Guston Now, will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from May 1 to September 11, 2022; at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from October 23, 2022, to January 15, 2023; at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., from February 26 to August 27, 2023; and at the Tate Modern, London, from October 3, 2023 to February 4, 2024.
Click to enlarge images
These two high-octane minds in dialogue, in deep, respectful friendship, resound in their letters like a piano sonata for four hands that's part Schubert, part Busoni. And then there's the enclosing arch of Feld's visionary evocation of Guston's quest and Guston's vulnerability. . . This is a beautiful, mysterious, generous book.
Guston's art never goosestepped in time to aesthetic orthodoxy. Neither does Ross Feld's exhilarating, stylistically-inventive book. Part criticism, part memoir, part meditation on art and death, Guston In Time is a revealing portrait of not only the painter, but of a passionate friendship. "We are necessary absolutely to each other," Guston declared to Feld. Witnessing this duet of ferocious yet generous intelligences, we can see why. Feld argues that to create, an artist must both expose himself and hide—often at the same time. What a privilege it is to share both men's creative processes.
A moving memorial to a deep and supportive friendship. . . Feld's readings of a number of [Guston’s] paintings, informed by his intimacy with the artist, are near-definitive models of passionate clarity and explication. . . This book is valuable, too, for the light it sheds on the often ill-understood reciprocal nature of the relationship between artists and critics. . . [A] remarkable volume, which recalls Rilke's Letters on Cezanne in its joyful intensity.
This irresistible hybrid—part memoir, part art criticism, part biography, part meditation on death—employs language with such richness that it seems a species of prose poetry. The combination of Feld's startlingly insightful writing with the astonishing candor of Guston's letters, is unique and compelling. . . . Looked at one way, this book is a small, perfect elegy; looked at another, it is an even more complicated achievement. The three modes that Feld nominates as central to Guston's art—"theatrical, asymmetrically plural and philosophical"—are Feld's own strengths as well and this book fairly vibrates with their considered application.
Friendships and devoted correspondents across various disciplines give us a special glimpse into why we are all involved in this thing called culture. The Guston-Feld correspondences have the immediacy and urgency that we usually experience only in artists' studios in front of new work or over drinks and a pack of cigarettes throwing around new ideas. Reading this book you can taste the scotch and smell the smoke, and feel the ideas forming.
An affectionate homage. . . Feld escorts the reader through Guston’s idiosyncratic iconography and in a loosely chronological fashion easily moves from anecdote to analysis of paintings. . . Feld’s effortless prose sets the reader in the studio, in the kitchen, in an Italian restaurant, as he captures his friend’s animus.