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Emulating Divine Creation: Philip Guston's Third Act

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Philip Guston painted The Line (1978) late in life. It was eight years after he first exhibited figurative works that broke with his former Abstract Expressionist style. That show at New York’s Marlborough Gallery is the stuff of legend. The new paintings marked a sea change in the artist’s work, but led to wide disparagement from critics and colleagues, causing Guston to abandon the art scene and withdraw to his studio in Woodstock. There he refined his new painting language, producing the body of work that would eventually prove so influential to later generations of artists.


The Line draws attention to an overlooked characteristic in Guston’s figurative paintings, opening up an interpretive framework for understanding his work as an extended rumination on the fundamental creative impulse we share in God. The giant hand is also Guston’s. An earlier version of this essay on the nature of the creative act appears in Dappled Things. A newer version appears in Radix Magazine.

Philip Guston

The Line

1978

Oil on canvas

180.3 x 186.1 cm / 71 x 73 1/4 inches

© The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Photo: Genevieve Hanson

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