Unreal Nature

June 10, 2016

A Contaminated Thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:23 am

… Lines will then have something to complain about, to mourn, and a conversation begins.

Final post from Philip Guston: The Studio, by Craig Burnett (2014):

… Smoke provides the binding force of The Studio, both its sensual arabesque and its metaphysical punchline. While Guston likely had it in mind from the moment he painted a cigarette, the smoke looks like the last touch to the painting.

Peanuts comic strip

… In a typical sequence from the mid-1950s, Charlie Brown whistles at Patty who walks past, a single note appearing in the speech bubble. She responds with a ‘humph!’ Next frame, Violet Gray walks by and Schroeder seduces her with a complex melody, provoking a smile on her face and a black cloud in Charlie’s speech bubble.

[line break added] The black cloud is not unlike the role played by Guston’s puff: emotion seeks escape from the black gushes of the hood, and this is his smoky sigh. George Herriman used a range of simple marks beside the heads of Krazy Kat or Ignatz to express, with extreme economy, a range of feelings or ideas. Not even specific feelings: just an open space for thought and emotion that the viewer could read pictorially, or ‘see into.’

[line break added] And these marks used by cartoonists, from Herriman to Chris Ware, are not significantly different, formally, from a halo or the streams of gold that fan out from the holy spirit of Jesus’s head in the tradition of Western religious painting, not least Piero’s Baptism of Christ. Guston fuses the twin impulses of religious allegory and cartoonist shorthand, and the smoke here works on the same principle, expressing in a smudge of soot the wordless despair of the hood.

Philip Guston, The Studio, 1969

Guston always contaminates any hint of abstraction with his and his characters’ restless longing to ‘see in’ even amid the evanescent puffs of white: you see both smudges of paint and the figure staring at the smoke, painting and story simultaneously.

… Even two lines side by side can, for Guston, evoke a relationship, and thus a story. In conversation with Guston in 1968, Morton Feldman recalled an anecdote about visiting him the winter before when Guston showed him a spare and simple drawing of just two lines, and said, in Feldman’s recollection: ‘It’s all rhetoric.

[line break added] You see that line? And you see that line a little bit on top of it? Well, that line on top of it is talking into the ear of that bottom line, telling him its troubles.’ Two lines in conversation, enacting a brief existential melodrama. When Guston called a picture a ‘story,’ it was his way of opening up the ‘wiggly and straight lines’ to metaphor and discourse, removing their strictly formal purpose.

Guston wants the simplest line to be a contaminated thing, a body, a metaphor. Lines will then have something to complain about, to mourn, and a conversation begins.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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