At Guston’s October 1970 exhibition at Marlborough Gallery, New York, many who admired his elegant abstractions were shocked to discover a return to the representational imagery he had abandoned two decades before. Bare light bulbs, trash cans, old shoes, and other detritus of a seemingly apocalyptic world—painted in a cartoonlike style on a grand scale—now populated his canvases. As Guston put it, "I got sick and tired of all that Purity! I wanted to tell stories." For the rest of the decade his works incorporated elusive narratives of a country embroiled in a devastating war abroad and painful struggles at home alternated with solitary figures like this one—an anxious smoker, often interpreted as a self-portrait, lying awake in a desolate room while the clock ticks away the small hours of the night.