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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© Estate of Philip Guston
American, born Canada, 1913 - 1980
Oil on canvas

69 x 78 1/2 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided
by the Alice Pratt Brown Museum Fund

Arts of North America

Among the most celebrated of the Abstract Expressionist painters in the 1950s and early 1960s, Philip Guston bracketed his career with paintings devoted to the figure. In the 1940s, he painted scenes of battling figures
to reflect the horrors of World War II. Late in life, Guston returned to these images, as demonstrated in this eloquent self-portrait, which can be understood as a meditation on mortality and memory.

Dominating the composition is the figure of the artist, shown lying in bed. Behind him is a horse, which can be understood as a literal nightmare.
On the left are scattered cigarettes and alcohol bottles, reminders of the bad habits Guston was forced to abandon as his health failed. The trash-can lid, which stands like a shield in the center of the composition, and the sparring clubs and fists suggest ongoing battles that populate the artist's dreams
and psyche.