, Philip Guston paints a traditional tin kettle, steam escaping from its spout, sat on a red ground against a black sky. The late 1970s were a difficult period for the artist and his family. He worked furiously without enough rest, at one point being hospitalised for exhaustion. His wife, the poet Musa McKim, had a series of strokes that left her in ill health, and a year after this piece was painted, Guston had two near-fatal heart attacks. The kettle he paints here is whistling in the dark – a popular expression that means futilely putting on a brave face despite a difficult situation – but as the curators of the Philip Guston
exhibition noted in their foreword to the accompanying exhibition book, ‘it is still whistling, and whistling still.’
FSC Certified paper and wood
Date of work
Original: Philadelphia Museum of Art: Bequest of Daniel W. Dietrich II, 2016, 2016-3-17 ©The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy McKee Gallery, New York
Philip Guston (1913 – 1980) was a Canadian American artist, who worked in painting, drawing, printmaking and murals. Born in Canada to a Jewish immigrant family, he grew up in the US and was one of the most celebrated abstract painters of the 1950s and 1960s. His early work addressed racism in America and wars abroad. During the social and political upheavals of the late 1960s, Guston rejected abstraction, and instead developed a practice involving large-scale paintings and comic-like figures, some in white hoods representing evil and the everyday perpetrators of racism. These paintings and those that followed established Guston as one of the most influential painters of the late 20th century.