Philip Guston, Rite, 1957, oil on illustration board, 24 x 35 in.
Philip Guston: Painter 1957-1967 at Hauser & Wirth in Chelsea is a watershed exhibition and a revelation. It is astounding that such a show could be assembled almost immediately after Guston's estate moved from the McKee gallery, bringing together more than 50 major works from what I consider to be Guston's most important period. These paintings have long been regarded by many as transitional, from the color field abstractions of the early '50s to the infamous figural work of the '70s, and as such have been generally undervalued in Guston's oeuvre. They are indeed agonizing paintings in which the artist's existential struggle is laid bare on the canvas, and through which he finds his way to his "breakthrough", to a new kind of figuration. The magnificent import of these works lies precisely in that struggle and its metaphorical embodiment in abstract form. With an unparalleled rawness, these paintings convey the gut wrenching tensions that hold and build through a charged decade of searching and speculating about the nature of being, and the nature of painting. Here we see Guston squared off, facing the canvas, painting his way through a mortal battle between his deepest desires and his most dogged preconceptions, pushing his notion of abstraction to a precipice.
Philip Guston, Untitled, 1958, oil on canvas, 64 x 75 in.
Philip Guston, Painter, 1959, oil on canvas, 65 x 69 in.
Philip Guston, Turn, 1959, oil on panel, 22 x 28 in.
Philip Guston, Turnabout, 1959, oil on paper mounted on panel, 22 x 30 in.
Philip Guston, Untitled, 1959, oil on paper mounted on panel, 18 x 24 in.
Philip Guston, Alchemist, 1960, oil on canvas, 61 x 67 in.
Philip Guston, Path II, 1960, oil on canvas, 62 x 71 in.
Philip Guston, Slope II, 1961, oil on paper mounted on canvas, 40 x 30 in.
Philip Guston, Accord, 1962, oil on canvas, 68 x 78 in.
Philip Guston, Painter III, 1963, oil on canvas, 66 x 79 in.
Philip Guston, The Three, 1964, oil on canvas, 80 x 91 in.
Philip Guston, The Year, 1964, oil on canvas, 78 x 107 in.
Philip Guston, May Sixty-Five, 1965, oil on canvas, 70 x 80 in.
Philip Guston, Installation, 2016, Hauser & Wirth, NYC
Thornton Willis, step over, under and through, 2016, oil on canvas, 70 x 61 inches
Thornton Willis is presenting a diverse and powerful group of recent paintings at Elizabeth Harris Gallery (through May 7, 2016). As with every new body of work, here Willis continues to push his paintings into new territory, constantly refining and expanding his vocabulary, while also releasing himself from his own rules and assumptions. The most distinctive new development is a sort of dissolution of the structures, so that rather than being contained or cropped by the edges of the rectangle, in the newest work, the shapes and configurations float in a continuous field of color. The effect is one of buoyancy, of hovering in a constantly shifting space. There is a translucence created by the intensity of the color field and the open placement of various sized rectangles within it, heightening the ambiguity and mystery of the configuration. The color ranges from high key, almost acidic, to soft pastels, and is utterly intuitive with no apparent system other than the internal poetry of the painting. As always the surfaces are juicy, with an offhanded and direct approach to the paint which belies the precision of the compositions. These are masterful works by an artist who has achieved a radical freedom.
Thornton Willis, step around, 2015, oil on canvas, 77 x 61 inches
Thornton Willis, spin step, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 77 x 61 inches
Thornton Willis, totem #1, 2014, oil on canvas, 77 x 61 inches
Thornton Willis, three painters, 2014, oil on canvas, 77 x 61 inches
Thornton Willis, impingement, 2015, oil on canvas, 77 x 61 inches
Thornton Willis, totem #2, 2014, oil on canvas, 86 x 70 inches
Thornton Willis, carousel, 2014, oil on canvas, 77 x 61 inches
Thornton Willis, three soldiers, 2015, oil on canvas, 70 x 61 inches