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On a Philip Guston-related story

The Meditation on Philip Guston that I posted on July 12th reminds me of something that happened towards the end of my MA. I studied in Barcelona, Spain, under the auspices of Winchester School of Art’s European MA in Fine Art. WSA owned a building right in the heart of the Barrio Gotico, just a few steps away from the Picasso Museum on Carrer Montcada. They also had a set of studios in the Poble Nou section of the city, which is a few miles north-east of the centre, right next to the beach. My studio was in the Poble Nou building, and while I could produce thousands of words of memories about my time there, I’ll just say that it was quite pleasant to take a break at midday, walk ten minutes to the beach, and sit on the sand listening to Beethoven on my Sony Walkman.

The school used to fly in artists to give a talk and conduct studio visits with us. One of these was John Walker, a fine English artist who has lived in the USA for many years. I remember him walking up the stairs to my studio, which was in a sort of half-loft area of a converted factory. He looked at my paintings, said encouraging things, and then sat on a chair and proceeded to tell an anecdote about Philip Guston, which went something like this:

“When I first moved to New England in the 1970s, I discovered that Philip Guston was my neighbour. I started to visit him, and I would walk across the snowy fields in winter and drink whisky with him in the mornings. He gave me a great piece of advice that I am now passing on to you: A painting should always hit you in the eye from across the room.”

Naturally I was impressed that Walker had been friends with such a renowned American painter, and I was also a little flattered that this piece of advice from the Master was being passed on to me. After the studio visit was over, I rushed into the bar close to the studio to meet my friends, two of whom had had visits from Walker before me. I started excitedly to tell them about the transcendent experience that had just occurred, but I was interrupted by Friend One, who said: “Did he tell you the Philip Guston story?”

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