"...objects and their functions no longer had any significance. All I perceived was perception itself" --Federico Fellini, 1992
To Fellini, Philip Guston's totemic masterpiece of color and form, is the culmination of a journey which the artist began less than a decade earlier when he freed himself from the shackles of figuration and began to explore the realms of abstraction. For Guston, painting was "an illusion, a piece of magic, so what you see is not what you see ...who knows what sets off even the desire to paint? It might be things, thoughts, a memory, sensations, which have nothing to do directly with painting itself. They can come from anything and anywhere" (P. Guston, quoted by M. Auping (ed.), Philip Guston: Retrospective, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 2003, p. 37). The surface of To Fellini reverberates with this sense of formal intrigue as enigmatic shapes seemingly appear, disappear and reappear, hinting at the structure of object, yet recoiling at the last minute as their form disappears again into the recesses of the canvas. Just as Guston allows the forms in his paintings to be relinquished of their representational role, so he does with color. Blues and greens, freed from their figurative associations, inhabit the central portion of the canvas, ranging in tone from deep, intense azure blues, through to fiery reds and golden oranges and ending with the fresh moss greens that inhabit the perimeter of the central core.
Like the work of fellow Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline, To Fellini possesses an architectural quality to its composition. This not only applies to the nebulous colorful forms built up around the horizontal and vertical passages of dark paint, but also to Guston's technique of constantly laying down and removing areas of paint to reveal the anatomy of his painterly process. The resulting surface is infused with a frenetic sense of energy, as passages of primary colors jostle with more muted tones to compete for attention. Guston's energetic painterly style also manifests physically in itself in the short, sharp brushstrokes that make up the central section and then become more fluid as they migrate outwards. The critic Dore Ashton, in her seminal text on Guston, highlights this particular aspect of To Fellini, as one of its most celebrated features: "The image does not huddle in a central site, but spreads aggressively from corner to corner, its darkish passages moving restlessly in every direction. Small details lead the eye into ambushes and dead ends, as large forces spread ominously. Lavish, free brushstrokes escape from the pack, only to be scraped down to thin memories by the excited painter" (D. Ashton, Yes, But...:A Critical Study of Philip Guston, Berkeley, 1976, p. 113).
The title of this particular work pays homage to Federico Fellini, one of the twentieth century's most influential directors. The artist was an avid film goer and would spend many hours in his local movie theater decompressing from the long periods of intense painting in his studio. Fellini was one of Guston's favorite directors, finding solace in his films that were celebrated for the rich textures and unexpected forms that populated the narrative. In 1992, Fellini commented on his unique style of filming, admitting that, "...objects and their functions no longer had any significance. All I perceived was perception itself, the hell of forms and figures devoid of human emotion and detached from the reality of my unreal environment" (F. Fellini, quoted by D. Pettigrew, I'm a Born Liar: A Fellini Lexicon, New York, 2003, p. 91). The parallels between Fellini's unique vision of the world and Guston's own aesthetic explorations are clear, as curator Michael Auping points out in the catalogue to Guston's 2003 retrospective organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. "For Fellini...the image always came first, carrying with it or implying a number of possible meanings. His screen was always filled with mysterious conflicts and startling passages. Although abstract, To Fellini is also packed with compressed and discordant dramas. In titling an image in homage to Fellini, who engaged modern society's psychological fragility, Guston was tacitly acknowledging his growing conviction that "subjectivity," so much discussed in relation to Abstract Expressionism, does not exist in a vacuum. It is a result of engaging the world at large and the strange, conflicting images that it presents" (M. Auping (ed.), Philip Guston: Retrospective, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 2003, p. 48).
Guston's abstract paintings have been compared to Impressionist paintings by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro due to their atmospheric appearance and painterly fracture. However, Guston's questioning spirit is more aligned with Paul Cézanne and the non-hierarchical structure of this work attests to Guston's study of the Post-Impressionist master. Cézanne's inflections of paint do not so much absorb the viewer's gaze, but rather to deflect it elsewhere, resulting in an all-over effect. Furthermore, through his signature taches of paint, Cézanne throws into doubt the materiality of objects in his still-life or nature in his landscapes. Guston's painting, in terms of color, line and form, privileges these properties above all else so that what is eventually shown on the canvas is the artist's investigation into the plasticity of image-making.
To Fellini was painted during a moment in Guston's career when he had reached the pivotal point in his painterly investigations into abstraction and figuration. He was one of the few artists of his generation who lived long enough to complete the transition from figuration to abstraction and back again, and this particular work marks the moment when the two traditions held equal prominence in his work. Beginning in his works of the late 1950s and early 1960s, form starts to become the dominant force in his work as abstraction begins to lose out to and an increasingly figurative aesthetic. To Fellini--and its companion painting Fable I (Washington University, St. Louis)--becomes a frantic burst of painterly expression, an eruption of instinctive expressionism in its purist form, "The desire for direct expression finally became so strong that even the interval necessary to reach back to the palette beside me became too long; so one day I put up a canvas and placed the palette in front of me. Then I forced myself to paint the entire work without stepping back to look at it" (P. Guston, quoted by R. Storr, Guston, New York, 1986, p. 25).
Oil on canvas
Property from a Private East Coast Collection
Signed, titled and dated 'PHILIP GUSTON 1958 "TO FELLINI"' (on the reverse)
Philip Guston , 20th Century, Paintings, United States of America, Post War
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Philip Guston, December 1959-January 1960, no. 3 (illustrated).
Endicott, Harpur College, Paintings from the Collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1960.
XXX Venice Biennale, United States Pavilion, Philip Guston, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Theodore Roszak, June-October 1960.
Rochester, Memorial Art Gallery, Paintings and Sculptures from the Collection of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1961.
Saratoga Springs, Skidmore College, Selections from the Collection of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1961.
Waterville, Colby College Art Museum, Seal Harbor Collection of Governor and Mrs. Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1961.
Atlanta Art Association, Paintings from the Collection of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1962.
Utica, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Selections from the Collection of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1962.
Elmira, University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State College, Contemporary Paintings from the Collection of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philip Guston, May 1962-June 1963, pp. 42 and 83, no. 45 (illustrated in color).
Oneonta, New York State University College, James M. Milne Library, Paintings from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection, 1965.
Huntington Gallery, Paintings from the Collection of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1965.
Waltham, Brandeis University, Rose Art Museum, Philip Guston, a Selective Retrospective Exhibition, 1945-1965, February-March 1966, no. 17.
Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art; Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art; Melbourne National Gallery of Victoria; Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Two Decades of American Painting, October 1966-August 1967, no. 26 (illustrated).
Syracuse, Everson Museum of Art, Selections from the Collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller from Albany and Seal Harbor, Maine, 1968.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Twentieth Century Art from the Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller Collection, May-September 1969, p. 108 (illustrated).
Great Neck, North Shore Community Art Center, A Representative Selection of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller's Contemporary Art Collection, 1969.
New York City Community College, Grace Gallery, The Works of Six Prominent Contemporary Artists: from the Collection of the Honorable Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969.
Alfred, State University Agricultural Technical College, Twentieth Century Art from the Collection of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1970.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; The Denver Art Museum; New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Philip Guston, May 1980-September 1981, p. 71, no. 27 (illustrated in color).
Madrid, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia; Barcelona, Palau de la Virreina; Saint Louis Art Museum; The Dallas Museum of Art, Philip Guston: Retrospectiva de Pintura (Saint Louis Art Museum and The Dallas Museum of Art as Philip Guston: 50 Years of Painting, March 1989-January 1990, p. 8, no. 17 (illustrated in color).
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; New York, The Museum of Modern Art; London, Royal Academy of Arts, Philip Guston Retrospective, March 2003-April 2004, pp. 2 and 145, no. 46 (illustrated in color).
New York, L&M Arts, Philip Guston 1954-1958, January-February 2009.
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
69 x 74 in. (175.2 x 187.9 cm.)
D. Ashton, Philip Guston, New York, 1960, p. 45 (illustrated).
N. Ponente, Modern Painting: Contemporary Trends, New York, 1960, p. 152 (illustrated inc olor).
D. Ashton, A Critical Study of Philip Guston, New York, 1990, p. 115 (illustrated).
R. Storr, Philip Guston, New York, 1986, p. 37, no. 32 (illustrated in color).
M. Dabrowski, The Drawings of Philip Guston, exh. cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1988, p. 25, fig. 11 (illustrated in color).
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection, New York
Richard Manoogian Collection, Grosse Pointe
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1991