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Cigar
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Cigar
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Cigar

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About the item

Philip Guston's Cigar boldly encapsulates the audacious innovation of the artist's celebrated late corpus of figurative paintings. Painted in 1969, Cigar is amongst the earliest iterations of Gustons radical transformation when, after decades of acclaim as a key member of the New York School and the high priest of the abstract expressionist painting cult, the artist abandoned the gestural flourishes of abstracted color and interpretive freedom that had become the hallmarks of his distinctive aesthetic, replacing them with bold, stylistic, and symbolically charged figurative paintings. (Christoph Schreier, Path to an Impure Painting Style in Exh. Cat., Bonn, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Philip Guston, 1999, p. 9) The delightfully absurd subject of the present work, with his ghoulish cloak and over-sized cigar, is one of the most iconic motifs of the late paintings, which explore a strange and intriguing hinterland of mischievous beings and their indecorous behavior. Testament to the caliber of the present work, Cigar been held in only two private collections since its 1970 unveiling at Marlborough Gallery, notably including that of esteemed collector Stefan T. Edlis. Altogether a superlative example of Gustons celebration of freedom from the confines of abstraction via the employment of a powerful and recognizable pictorial strategy, Cigar offers an intimate portrait of an artist who yielded to the creative impulse and dared to forge a new path. (Michael Auping, Philip Guston: Tableaux/Paintings 1947-79, New York, 2000, p. 15) When Guston unveiled the radical figuration of his new works at Marlborough Gallery in New York in 1970, his legacy as one of the most innovative painters of the twentieth century was secured. Yet while the artists late work is now regarded as the brilliant expression of a liberated creative spirit, his abrupt departure from abstraction was initially met with shock and trepidation by artists and critics alike. The revolutionary simplicity of these new works, filled with ominously hooded figures, surreal post-apocalyptic cityscapes, and an underlying aura of gleeful immorality, was viewed as a betrayal to the movements lofty principles. Indeed, Gustons radical paintings of figures and objects were wholly counterintuitive to the unchallenged dogma of Abstract Expressionism, backed by Clement Greenbergs supposition that the future of American art would be invariably linear, abstract, and decidedly non-figurative. Interestingly, one of the few who immediately grasped the genius and originality of Gustons transformation was another artist known for his distinctive late paintings; upon viewing the paintings, Willem de Kooning remarked that he was struck by the palpable freedom in the rosy-toned figurative paintings. (Andrew Graham-Dixon in Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy, Philip Guston: A Retrospective, 2004, p. 55) As an exceptionally early example of the late works, Cigar captures the transformation from action to figure painting as part of the aesthetic strategy to destabilize linear development. While the richly textured scarlet pigment and variegated flourishes of pink evoke the lush abstraction of Gustons earlier work, these forms are precisely designated as bricks and cartoonish flesh in the present work through the simple incision of black outlining. This distinction is made even more explicit by the gestural plume of ashy cigar smoke that curls towards the sky; conjuring the painterly bravura of his celebrated abstract corpus, Guston reminds the viewer that his ground-breaking departure from the gestural abstraction of his earlier work is entirely by choice.\nThe newfound unrestrained visual vocabulary evident in Cigar, a superb embodiment of Gustons late style, enacts a brilliant fusion of politically charged iconography and satirical self-portraiture. As the seventh and youngest child to Russian emigrants in Canada, Gustons family relocated to Southern California at a time in which the Ku Klux Klan had a significant membership in the region. As a result of this early exposure, depictions of the Klansman were central to the artists early work of the 1930s. After decades of banishment to the depths of his imagination, the specter of these earlier Klansmen resurfaces in the present work as cartoonish, simplified caricatures of human vice. By burying these villains in sardonic and absurd figuration, the canvas of Cigar provides a fictive arena in which the shadowy aspects of human nature can be explored without consequences; in their abandonment of abstraction, the late paintings granted Guston a remarkable platform upon which to tell psychologically complex, politically charged and shockingly self-effacing stories. Although cloaked in absurdity, the hooded figure of Cigarindisputably the primary antihero of the late worksoffers a candid portrait of the artists self-image. Like Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, and Clement Greenberg, Guston was a heavy drinker and smoker, indulgent of the vices that plagued the New York school. The fat cigar of the present work, clutched in the overlarge hand as one might casually hold a paintbrush between daubs, appears as a frequent, talismanic prop throughout the late works, imbuing them with the presence of the artist. Remarking upon the iconic hooded figures in the paintings, Guston revealed, I perceive myself as being behind a hood. In the new series of hoods my attempt was really not to illustrate, to do pictures of the Klansman as I had done earlier. The idea of evil fascinated me, I almost tried to imagine that I was living with the Klan. (Ingrid Pfeiffer, Philip Guston: Late Works, New York, 2013, p. 92) Indeed, elegantly framed within the striking simplicity of the present composition, Gustons cartoonish figure achieves a startling poignancy as, avoiding our eyes, he gazes into an imaginative realm that that is inaccessible to the viewer.\nSigned; signed, titled and dated 1969 on the reverse 
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Guston, Philip

dimensions

52 by 60 1/8 in. 132.1 by 152.7 cm.

exhibition

New York, Marlborough Gallery Inc., Philip Guston, October 1970, no. 11 La Jolla, La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, Philip Guston: Recent Work, July - October 1971, no. 11 New York, McKee Gallery, Group Show, January - March 2001

literature

Robert Slifkin, Out of Time: Philip Guston and the Refiguration of Postwar American Art, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2013, p. 164, pl. 23, illustrated in color

provenance

Estate of the Artist McKee Gallery, New York Stefan T. Edlis, Chicago (acquired from the above in 2001) Sotheby's, New York, May 14, 2008, Lot 65 (consigned by the above) Acquired by the present owner from the above

signedDate

Signed; signed, titled and dated 1969 on the reverse 

artist_range_end

1980

artist_range_start

1913

creator_nationality_dates

1913 - 1980


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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