This Sunday June 9, we’re really looking forward to Neal Morgan‘s lecture and slideshow on the painter Philip Guston in Portland at the Stumptown Downtown Cafe at 6pm.
You’ve most likely seen Neal perform, behind the drums and on the road with Bill Callahan and Joanna Newsom. He writes and records an experimental solo project, too, rich with layered drums, backing vocals and earnest spoken word, and is working on a new record which will come out later this year.
Neal became “somewhat fanatical” about Philip Guston’s later work while working at SFMOMA in 2003. For the last ten years, his inspiration and fascination with Guston has deepened (the cover of his last record In the Yard is the artist’s painting “Evidence”) and he has engaged in a rigorous study of his work.
We talked with Neal about courageous artists, making art in wartime, and falling for Frank Ocean.
What is it about Philip Guston in particular that has inspired you to further your research and give lectures in honor of his 100th birthday?
Guston was as courageous an artist as they come. After ten years of tunnel vision related to him and his work, I still feel newly-inspired by his bravery. I think we all have something to learn in particular from his rejection of abstraction and return to figuration in the late 60s and from the otherworldly works that resulted. The best way that I can honor and thank Philip Guston is to help others to see and consider and understand his work. I gave a lecture spontaneously outside Tiga for his birthday last year and thought I’d up the ante a little bit for his centennial.
Tell me about your investigation and deep study into the artist’s work.
In 2003, while working at SFMOMA, I was able to spend a lot of time in Michael Auping’s Guston Retrospective show and became like a moth to a light bulb. I hadn’t understood the late work before that time. We had just invaded Iraq, we were deep into Bush’s first administration, and I was struggling with my wanting to be an artist, wanting to be a drummer in the middle of all this. I was out there taking photographs of fields and Bush was in office. Sure, be an artist, I guess that’s ok, but what was my responsibility? I had needed to see that late Guston work and to understand it and to understand where it came from. Where HE was coming from. In his fifties, then a master painter and wealthy and comfortable after a long stretch as a leading abstractionist alongside Pollock, Rothko, Kline and the rest of the so-called New York School, he re-joined the fight. Picasso said painting is an act of war. That is true. But some artists and some paintings are on the frontlines of battles in addition to being “at war” in a general man vs. society/technology/corporate America sense. Some paintings are doing the hand-to-hand combat. And the punches he threw in that late work were right on the money in so many ways. There were no sucker-punches. It’s beautiful, important, mysterious work. (more…)