Philip Guston and Reuben Kadish, “Physical Growth of Man” (Detail) (1936) (image courtesy the Estate of Philip Guston, © the Estate of Philip Guston)

Currently on view at Hauser & Wirth’s Los Angeles outpost, Resilience: Philip Guston in 1971 covers a pivotal year in the celebrated artist’s career. Featuring enigmatic hooded characters, bulbous shoes, and lonely landscapes, these figurative paintings that Guston is perhaps best known for represented a drastic shift from his previously abstract work, and were originally panned by critics. Also on view is a series of satirical political drawings skewering then president Richard Nixon and his entourage, more counter-culture cartoon than high art, further evidence of Guston’s rejection of distinct aesthetic categories.

Before these seminal works and before his Abstract Expressionist days, however, Guston was Phillip Goldstein, the youngest son of Russian-Jewish émigrés, who was born in Montreal in 1913. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1919, where Guston’s father worked as a garbage collector with a horse-drawn carriage. Guston had an early love for comics and attended Manual Arts High School with classmate Jackson Pollock, though the two were expelled for printing satirical leaflets and protesting the ROTC. After briefly attending the Otis Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design), Guston became enamored with the work of the Mexican muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, who each had come to Southern California to paint mural commissions. In the mid-1930s he traveled to Morelia, Mexico with fellow artist Reuben Kadish, where they completed the mural “The Struggle Against War and Fascism,” sponsored by Siqueiros.

Upon returning to Los Angeles, the pair won a commission for a mural at the City of Hope tuberculosis sanatorium in Duarte, California. Inspired by Renaissance frescoes, the T-shaped painting features figures representing youth on the left of a doorway, and aged decline on the right, with “the arts” spanning the two sides. Completed in July 1936 — shortly before Guston moved to New York, changing his name and embarking on a new life — this mural bears the signatures of Kadish and Goldstein.

On Tuesday, December 3, scholar Ellen G. Landau will lead a discussion about this important but often overlooked moment in Guston’s career. Landau, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emerita in the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University, has written extensively about Abstract Expressionism, and published a 2007 prize-winning essay titled “Double Consciousness in Mexico: How Philip Guston and Reuben Kadish Painted a Morelian Mural.” The event is free, though reservations are required.

When: Tuesday, December 3, 3–4pm
Where: City of Hope Visitor’s Center (1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte, California)

More info at Hauser & Wirth

Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Hyperallergic, he has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, CARLA, Apollo, ARTNews, and other publications.