Unreal Nature

January 23, 2017

They Swallowed Things Whole and They Sweated Them Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:31 am

… wanting to love one, he could no longer love the other as he had previously.

This is from ‘Guston’s Late Work: A Conversation’ between four people, the only one of whom I’m going to quote is Robert Storr. It’s found in Go Figure! New Perspectives on Guston edited by Peter Benson Miller (2014):

[ … ]

Robert Storr: … the nature of looking done by Guston’s generation, the kind of looking de Kooning did, that Gorky did, and so on and so forth, was long, sustained assimilation. They swallowed things whole and they sweated them out. I think now people scan and store. Appropriation is appropriate for scanning and storing; the process of assimilation, digesting, remaking whatever it is, the metabolism of their kind of looking and what goes on now is utterly different.

[ … ]

RS: … When Guston and his generation were painting there was a certain kind of aesthetic idea and an ethical set of variables around it associated with Abstract Expressionism. When Rauschenberg and Johns began to be seen, they were understood as the categorical antithesis of that, particularly Johns. He was seen, they were understood, as the categorical antithesis of that, particularly Johns. He was seen as cold, deliberate, calculating, anti-human, every possible thing you could think of.

[line break added] There was an absolutely marvelous essay written by Leo Steinberg at the time describing the impact that Johns had on him. He was devoted to Abstract Expressionism. When Johns’s work came along, he found himself compelled by it and resenting the fact that he was because he found that, wanting to love one, he could no longer love the other as he had previously. He was conflicted about this shift in identification with a work of art, and in the real generational philosophical-aesthetic paradigm shift that was taking place in him as a viewer of these works. [ … ]

[line break added] The sweet part of it, of course, is that Johns now collects art of many kinds. Among the things he’s collected are works by Guston. So the person who was seen as the antithesis of his work is an artist that he himself is interested in. He also has some marvelous de Kooning drawings. A couple of years ago, there was a show [at Leo Castelli] of Guston and Johns together, and the parallels are very revealing. And it is revealing partly because it is clear that Guston influenced Johns in his later phases.

[line break added] Guston gave him permission for direct — if you want to call it that — symbolic or poetic or narrative painting that Johns needed in order to go in the direction that he has gone in recent years. Now, obviously he too has many other sources for this; one is not the master of the other. But clearly looking at Guston’s work unlocked something in him or a possibility in his own work that might not have been realized in the same way had it not been.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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