Philip Guston in 1979

Philip Guston in 1979


Past Masters: Philip Guston on Painting

The following statements are from Philip Guston by Robert Storr (Modern Masters series by Abbeville Press, New York, 1986):


What is seen and called a picture is what remains -- an evidence. Even as one travels in painting towards a state of "unfreedom" where only certain things can happen, unaccountably the unknown must appear.

Usually I am on a work for a long stretch, until a moment arrives when the air of the arbitrary vanishes, and the paint falls into positions that feel destined.

Fable, 1957

"Fable," oil on paper
on board (1957)
24-5/8" x 35-3/4"


The very matter of painting -- its pigment and spaces -- is so resistant to will, so disinclined to assert its plane and remain still.

Painting seems like an impossibility, with only a sign now and then of its own light. Which must be because of the narrow passage from diagramming to that other state -- a corporeality.

In this sense, to paint is a possessing rather than a picturing.

Statement in 12 Americans, exhibition catalog (Museum of Modern Art, 1956), p. 36.


To will a new form is inacceptable, because will builds distortions. Desire, too, is incomplete and arbitrary. These strategies, however intimate they become, must especially be removed to clear the way for something else -- a situation somewhat unclear, but with in retrospect becomes a very precise act....

There are twenty crucial minutes in the evolution of each of my paintings. The closer I get to that time -- those twenty minutes -- the more intensely subjective I become -- but the more objective too. Your eye gets sharper; you become continuously more and more critical.

There is no measure I can hold on to except this scant half-hour of making.

From "Faith, Hope and Impossibility," XXXI Artnews Annual 1966 (Oct. 1965), pp. 103, 138.


Ladder, 1978

"Ladder," oil on canvas (1978)
70" x 108"


Is the painting a vast precaution to avoid immobility, a wisdom which can include the partial doubt of the final destiny of forms? It may be this doubt which moves and locates everything.

From "Piero della Francesca: The Impossibility of Painting," Artnews 64 (May 1965), p. 39.


It's a long, long preparation for a few moments of innocence.

From a lecture at the University of Minnesota, 1978.


Copyright 2003, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont

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