A leader of the New York School, Guston’s praxis followed an elliptical path from figuration to abstraction and back again, and this dual attention to objectivity and abstraction is evident in the complex composition of the present work. To create the densely layered and nuanced surface of Traveller II, Guston began with strong, brilliant hues, scraped them down and painted over them with black, and then, by working over the still-wet paint with new layers of white, would create his characteristic shadowy pillars of grey. His method creates a sense of persistent subterranean light which pervades the canvas. Out of this smoky atmosphere arises a central black form; its definition and corporeality seem to reference figuration, even as it remains resolutely abstract. The paradox that surfaces here, of addition and erasure, emergence and disappearance, is vital to Guston’s work.
Capitalising on these conflicting agendas, Guston imbues his painting with references to a multitude of sources. The visual density and emotive, atmospheric quality of this larger-than-life canvas evokes the work of such Colour Field contemporaries as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, while the aggressive, masculine handling recalls that of Jackson Pollock, with whom Guston had been friends since high school and once briefly shared an apartment. Guston also deeply admired Renaissance masters such as Piero della Francesca, and kept a postcard of the Flagellation of Christ (1455-60, Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino) beside him in his studio. Its influence is keenly felt in the present work, from the palette of red, blue, green and black, to the enigmatic composition. A testament to Guston’s painterly mastery, these ostensibly contradictory sources are elegantly reconciled in the dynamic composition of Traveller II.
As esteemed art historian and critic H. Harvard Arnason wrote in his introduction to the catalogue for Guston’s Guggenheim retrospective, “Traveler II, painted in March-April, 1960, in its black and gray murkiness through which shine accents of brilliant green and red, its roughly brushed over-all texture, sets the mood for most of the recent paintings… Whatever may be the immediate or the ultimate raison d'etre for the recent work, there is no question that it represents the most completely logical summation of all the experiments with living forms and their interactions, which have obsessed him at least since 1953” (H. Harvard Arnason cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Philip Guston, 1962, pp. 33-34). This period of abstraction, of which Traveller II is an archetypal example, thus represents a seminal phase of Guston’s oeuvre, as he interrogates and reimagines the painterly modes of his peers and his past.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale