Artist. He is remembered for his neo-expressionism in painting, abandoning the so-called "pure abstraction" of abstract expressionism in favor of more cartoonish renderings of various personal symbols and objects. He was born to Ukrainian-Jewish parents who escaped persecution when they emigrated from Odessa, Ukraine to Montreal, Canada. The family moved to Los Angeles, California when he was a small child. When he was around ten years old, his father committed suicide by hanging himself in his shed, and the young Guston found the body. He began painting at the age of 14, and in 1927 he enrolled in the Los Angeles Manual Arts High School. His early work was figurative and representational. His mother supported his artistic inclinations, and he often made drawings in a small closet, lit by a hanging bulb. With the exception of his high school education and a one-year scholarship at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, he was largely a self-taught artist. In 1931, as a politically aware painter, he created an indoor mural in Los Angeles for the John Reed Club that depicted the Scottsboro Boys, nine black teenagers who were falsely accused of rape by two white girls. It was defaced by local police officers, which would have a great impact on his political and social outlook. In 1934 he traveled to Mexico with artist Reuben Kadish and poet Jules Langsner where they were given a 1,000-square-foot wall in the former summer palace of the Emperor Maximilian in the state capital of Morelia, and they produced the impressive "The Struggle Against Terror," an anti-fascist mural that was influenced by the work of Siqueiros. From 1934 to 1935 he and Kadish completed another mural at City of Hope, which at the time was a tuberculosis hospital located in Duarte, California, that remains to this day. In September 1935 he moved to New York where he worked as an artist in the WPA program. In 1941 he became an artist-in-residence at the School of Art and Art History at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) at Iowa City, Iowa, remaining there until 1945. After this he was artist-in-residence at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri until 1947. In the 1950s he achieved success and renown as a first-generation Abstract Expressionist. During this period his paintings often consisted of blocks and masses of gestural strokes and marks of color floating within the picture plane. In 1967 he moved to Woodstock, New York. He became increasingly frustrated with abstraction and began painting representationally again, but in a rather personal, cartoonish manner. His first exhibition of these new figurative paintings was held in 1970 at the Marlborough Gallery in New York, which received scathing reviews from most of the art establishment. As a result of the poor reception of his new figurative paintings, his contract with the Marlborough Gallery was not renewed and he isolated himself even more in Woodstock but soon joined the recently opened David McKee Gallery (whom he had known at Marlborough) and remained faithful to it until the end of his life. He died in Woodstock at the age of 66.
Bio by: William Bjornstad