NARRATOR: Artist Carroll Dunham talks about Philip Guston’s painting titled Cabal.
CARROLLDUNHAM: It seems pretty grim. You know? Piles of heads in a very desolate setting. The fact that there’s so much white used to delineate the shapes seems like it reinforces this idea of nocturnal atmosphere, and ghostliness. I really think that all his paintings, even the ones that appear to deal with the most particular subjects, are all about evoking a kind of mood space. You know, a psychological and emotional weather that is carried by the methodology, as much as it is by the images.
The only reason these paintings end up being really interesting is because of the way they’re painted. You can look at Guston’s earlier work and see very similar subject matter painted quite differently—very illustrational. So when you see a painting like this, the oily, brushy, physicality of the fields of paint and the richness of the limits of the palette make the image much more unsettling, and more monumental than it would be if it were dealt with as a kind of illustration.
Guston was at the leading edge of a wave that was running through the culture and its manifestations weren’t completely apparent when he first started to do these late paintings. So there was a lot of confusion about them when they were first exhibited and a lot of hostility on the part of people that had been supportive of what he did I lived in New York at the time that he had his first exhibition of what is now called the late work. And I remember vividly, the older artists that I was coming into contact with, being quite dismissive of those paintings. And I went to see them, and I didn’t know what to make of them. It would be incorrect to say that I saw my life’s work unfolding before me, but I certainly knew that I was looking at something pretty off-the-track of what was going on around New York at the time. So. It stuck in my head, and there were a lot of people roughly my age who were all showing up in New York around that time and probably having a similar experience. I don’t think Guston is the only agent of change, but I think in hindsight, you can see a lot of what happened with my generation of people doing painting that started to be visible here in the early ’80s. You can see that Guston was a huge either influence or source of permission for painting becoming much less stringent. You know, much less pure.