Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Presence of Absence

While stumbling around on the internet, I came across this description of Philip Guston's studio after his death, as described by his daughter, Musa Mayer. It was so poignant that I wanted to share it. It's from the end of her book, "Night Studio: A Memoir of Philip Guston." I had read her book a few years ago and found it absorbing and very well written. I recommend it both to those who like Guston's work and those who just like memoirs and/or biographies - especially of artists.

Philip Guston: Talking, 78"x68", 1979

"Beside the glass double doors to my father's studio is a green curtain for privacy, so that no one would walk in on Philip when he was working. Though no one is here but me, I find myself instinctively pulling the curtain across the entryway, hearing the brass rings scrape along the metal rod. Still protecting him. I open the curtain again, reach for the lights, and pause for a second look. The studio walls are bare, with only ladders and light fixtures leaning up against them to disturb their white expanse. Big wooden packing crates for a European exhibition now past, built sturdy as furniture and lined with green felt, are stacked like giant blocks. Stretched, primed canvases stand side by side, waiting. For a year or two, we cleaned in here, but now everything carries a fine coat of pale blond dust. We call this room 'the studio,' but it is no one's studio now. No longer steeped in sadness, it is too anonymous for that. It is no longer his. It's just a room, an empty room. It could be anyone's space, with its flat lights, its silences, its dust. I listen to the high whine of the fluorescent lights, the beating of the silence behind. So this is what death is really, I think, what it becomes. Beyond the pain of loss, there is finally only this sense of absence. The night quiet. And the way that memories blur, running into one another in the dilution of time."


Leslie Avon Miller said...

Very poignant isn’t it? Death is such a deep subject. The private spaces; like a dresser drawer, a wallet, or a studio that have always been the loved ones evoke a lot of feelings. I felt I crossed a real boundary when I had my Mother’s wallet and eye glasses; when she no longer needed them….A studio space may be a larger extension of something so personal. Thanks for sharing this Nancy.

Nancy Natale said...

Thanks for your comment, Leslie. Reading this description of PG's empty studio really made me think about my studio differently.

Debra Ramsay said...

Having recently met you Nancy...I was scrolling "backwards" (?) through your postings and found this. It links to your current post, in my mind, in that you talk about friendships being an important part of the conference experience.

Once we are no longer on earth in a physical form, it's amazing how the things we leave behind become "stuff," for some holding potent memories, but alot of it relegated to things that have to be dealt with.

It makes all the more important the idea of enjoying the work we do. Our work becomes more enriching when it brings friends together, brings "new" friends to a place to meet. My joy in the 311 Salon was how we all quickly got to the topics that are deeply important to all of us, the intricacies of our working processes.

As an aside, my neighbor studied with Philip Guston. (!)