In Philip Guston's lithographic drawing, a curtain parts, or perhaps a sheet is cut, to reveal six heads. All we see are eyes wide open. Three figures in profile look at a man who holds a burning cigarette between two fingers. Writers have speculated that the cigarette-holding figure is Guston's reference to himself in his art. If this is indeed Guston, he and another character scrutinize a suspended light bulb. Someone oddly looks down.
Guston's expressionist style distorts his figures and setting in a cartoon-like manner. Simple and as comical as the scene appears, there are deeper currents of meaning. Look carefully, as our figures are doing, and you will see that the artist rests his intentions on the exaggerated stares of his cast of characters. Everyone seems in search of something that has yet to be found.
Philip Guston's shift of style from abstract expressionist to figurative expressionist in the early 1970s brought him considerable acclaim. During a period when minimalist abstraction and conceptual art ruled the day, Guston's new style, along with Pablo Picasso's late expressionist work (1968-1973), provided the foundation for a revival of expressionist styles, resulting, in part, in significant new art movements, especially aspects of the new feminist art, New Image, and the German, Italian, and American neo-expressionist styles of the 1980s.
Philip Guston, Curtain, 1980, lithograph, 30 1/2 x 40 1/2 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Purchase through Rudolph and Louise Langer. 81.0.32 © The Estate of Philip Guston and Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles.