Philip Guston, Poor Richard (no. 10) (1971) © The Guston Foundation, Promised Gift to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
It would plumb the depths of unkindness and ingratitude to ask any admirable person who has left this world to return to it in its presently wretched and perilous state. Yet that impulse has occurred to many—even to me—when wondering aloud what could, what would, Philip Guston have done with the very raw material for political caricature currently available?
We are inspired to speculate by Gustons once obscure, now well-known cartoons of Richard Nixon and his gang of tragicomic White House thugs. That a chilling number of Nixons dirty tricksters are still hard at work in the shadows only whets our appetite for lethal lampoons of them. Of them, the most notorious are Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, with the dandified Stone now being the ripest target. Guston, unaware of their shadowy existence in the 1960s and 1970s, didnt pen their absurd likenesses then, but Henry Kissinger, whom he drew repeatedly, is operating behind the scenes on a global scale.
"Guston reconfigured the heavily bearded cheeks and ski-jump nose of the aptly named Dick Nixon into a hairy scrotum and dangling phallus"
The physiognomy of deviousness, greed, ruthless opportunism, risible self-importance and gobsmacking albeit garden variety stupidity provides artists of Gustons bent and calibre with a virtually bottomless well of imagery—even as his subjects prove that there are no depths to which they will not sink. Honoré Daumier memorably transformed the wannabe Sun King Louis-Philippe into an all-but-shapeless pear, while Guston definitively reconfigured the heavily bearded cheeks and ski-jump nose of the aptly named Dick Nixon into a hairy scrotum and dangling phallus. In his metamorphic hands, what might become of the pomaded, self-parodying dumb blond prince of snide, the pompous Pompeo, the vapid poodle Jared Kushner and the unfunny dough-boy William Barr, defender of lawlessness and disorder in high places?
Of course, the contemporary cast of miscreants is larger still, but the impact of Gustons cartoons of the Nixon presidency benefited enormously from his ability to select a few key players and toy with their features until they were—how shall I say it?—made ungreat again, in proportion to their roles and spotlight-grabbing gifts. The same would hold true in the unfolding surreality show that is the Trump administration. My guess is that aside from The Donald, The Attorney General and The Family—their cronyism is epic but Trumps business model is really the Cosa Nostra—additional candidates for Guston-like lumpy, bumpy attention (read: derision) would include the perfidious enabler Lindsey Graham, the chinless, soulless legislative fixer Mitch McConnell and the surpassingly sinister villain of Nativist anti-immigration policy, Stephen Miller.
Us, not them
But theres a hitch. When Guston first painted the Ku Klux Klan in the 1930s amid a surge of lynching, they exuded the otherness of pure evil. When he controversially returned to them in the 1960s, he understood that “they” were “us”. Accordingly, his hooded figures appeared as brickbat-wielding marauders but also as cigarette-puffing artists at their easels.
Gustons identification with the Klan is counter-intuitive for many of his viewers, but more introspection would serve them well, since recent history has proven beyond a doubt that American racism, tribalism and know-nothingism are truly “our” problems—such that making fun of them is inherently bitter, double-edged self-mockery. The same holds true when it came to Gustons ridicule of Nixon who, like him, hailed from a Read More – Source