Guston had three distinct phases or styles during his artistic career, all of
them remarkably successful. After first working as a muralist in a relatively
realistic style, he became prominent in the late 1940s and early 1950s as part
of the abstract expressionism movement. Beginning in the late 1960s, his late
period of clunky, expressive paintings of the human form marked the start of a
revolt against the abstract style that had dominated American painting since the
early 1950s. Born Philip Goldstein in Montreal, Canada, Guston moved with his

Russian-Jewish emigré parents to Los Angeles, California in 1919. His father
committed suicide in 1920. In 1927 Guston attended Manual Arts High School,
together with American artist Jackson Pollock; both were expelled in 1928.

Guston never returned, and his only other formal schooling was three months at
the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1930. In 1935 he moved to New York

City, and in 1937 married poet Musa McKim and changed his name. During World War

II (1939-1945) Guston taught art at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. During
his early artistic phase, which lasted from his youth in California until the
late 1940s, he painted the human form in a style influenced by the abstract
geometry of European modernism and the patriotic themes of Mexican mural
painting. Guston painted murals for the Works Progress Administration Federal

Art Project between 1935 and 1940, executing, among other projects, a major
commission for the 1939 New York World's Fair: Maintaining America's Skills (now
destroyed). None of his murals have survived, but canvases that he also worked
on during this period, such as Bombardment (1937-1938, Estate of Philip Guston)
and The Gladiators (1938, The Edward R. Broida Trust, Los Angeles), are
allegories (symbolic stories) with a strong strain of social protest. By the
late 1940s Guston was turning increasingly to abstraction, and by the early

1950s he was a prominent figure-along with Pollock-in the so-called New York
school of abstract expressionist painters. Abstractions such as Painting (1954)
and The Clock (1956-1957), both in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, though
quite different from each other, are typical of Guston's middle period. Both are
marked by a concentration of short strokes of high-pitched colors, jumbled at
the center of a field of lighter color. By the late 1960s, Guston had abandoned
abstraction, instead drawing cartoonish heads, clocks, lightbulbs, and hooded
figures recalling the Ku Klux Klan figure in his early painting The Conspirators
(1932, location unknown). In 1970 he exhibited these radically different
paintings for the first time, in a major show in New York City. Reviews were
harshly negative, and former friends shunned him. Guston withdrew from the New

York City art scene, spending most of his time in Woodstock, New York, and
forming close friendships with American poets Bill Berkson, Clark Coolidge,

William Corbett, and Stanley Kunitz, all of whom, in addition to Musa McKim, he
collaborated with on a series of projects that he called his Poem Pictures.

Guston painted at a steady pace throughout the 1970s, producing works in which
lone, sometimes hooded figures or disembodied heads, eyeballs, or feet typically
lurk in apocalyptic junkyards scattered with clocks, bricks and other debris.

Painting, Smoking, Eating (1973, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands),
is a self-portrait showing Guston in his studio, which is piled with shoes and
lit by a naked lightbulb. The dark subject matter in these works belies their
cheerfully naive painting style. Of Guston's three phases, the last proved most
influential on a subsequent generation of artists, the figurative
neoexpressionists of the 1980s, including American painter Julian Schnabel and

German painter Georg Baselitz, in whose work the impact of Guston's expressive
and unique imagery is evident.