Stationary Figure

Philip Guston American, born Canada

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 915

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.

Stationary Figure, Philip Guston (American (born Canada), Montreal 1913–1980 Woodstock, New York), Oil on canvas

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