Thursday, March 12, 2009

Three comics-related shows in DC. 3. Philip Guston.

The third show was held at the Tower Gallery of the National Gallery, presenting a few paper works and paintings by the one and only great Philip Guston. I'm presenting here a few pictures of this show. Guston is an extremely important reference for people interested in the study and appreciation of a wider field of comics (feel free to use another word if you feel more comfortable). The show has direct and simple notes showing us how De Chirico and Crumb were sources for Guston (permanent) reinvention. Everyone's knows from where the big feet come! (if you don't, just keep on tryin'!) And the big four fingered red glove will surely put us in the ballpark.

But more important (can I really say this?) than his painting and paper work, from which this small show is a great if small choice, is the 1971 Poor Richard, a sequence of caricatures of President Nixon represented as a big balls-cheeked, dick-nosed person, and his mates, such as Kissinger, represented as a free-floating pair of thick glasses. However, this would only be published in book form in 2001 (through the Univeersity of Chicago Press, with a study by Debra Bricker Balken). The important aspect of this work is that it is not a series of caricatures, but a real sequence, i.e., it is organised by a principle that forces us to read it through its appointed order. There are internal sequences that make this point even stronger - the visit to China being the most visible and central, I guess.
The figuration is also very telling, at one time formally simplistic, just like well-recognised characters of classical strips (Popeye and Krazy Kat come to mind), and semiotically charged. The themes are harrowing and personal, but to a certain extent they can be reinterpreted a little bit more freely, as figures with their own little narrative, independent of highly detailed context. I wonder if one could say the same of his paintings? If one can see the Mickeyesque red glove as more menancing than the Disney character can ever dream of being (or perhaps we could even see it as a critique of that entertainment Empire, so into suing as much as it can?), can we also see the Klan's hooded figures as cutsy? Hopefully not.

Sorry to tell you on this, Warren, but... Warren doodled throughout this show too, short riffs on Guston's work. I would like to see it here!

1 comment:

kmunson said...

Seeing these images and reading your comments about narrative and figuration, I can't help thinking of Peter Saul and Enrique Chagoya too.