From a conversation between editor Clark Coolidge and painter/printmaker Philip Guston, from Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations:

CC: It’s the bones.

PG: It’s the bones of the whole thing.

CC: Because you can look at a line and it’s fantastically ambiguous, too. At the same time as being the most solid thing you can make, you could see it so many ways. You can see it as a cut, you can see it as a stiff iron, you can see it as a division…

PG: Well, at this point, however, I must say something about that year of drawing, when I did hundreds, literally, maybe even into the thousands.

CC: In Florida, right?

PG: That’s right. And up here.

CC: It strikes me as funny that that was in Florida.

PG: I know. Well, for many reasons that we don’t have to go into now, I was cut off, you know.

CC: I know. And it’s because I always think of Florida as a good-for-nothing place.

PG: It is! That’s exactly what it is. It’s nothing.

CC: Where rich people go to do nothing.

PG: I know. It’s just a nothing place.

PHILIP GUSTON (1913-1980)

CC: And you go there and you do that.

PG: I know. Well, I didn’t work there for some weeks or months and then finally, out of desperation, I started this. And, in fact, when I was doing these line things, I suddenly got a call from [Morton] Feldman, who was in Texas making that show for the de Menils, in Dallas? Or Houston, I guess it was. And he said, “I’m in Texas, come and see me.” No. He said, “Can I come see you?” And I said, “Please come.” He said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m down to one line.” And he said, “I’m coming right away.” And he appeared two days later. I met him at the airport and I showed him all these things. They were all over the walls, the floor. The whole studio was just bulging, hung with these drawings. They were just brush ink on paper. They were all over the floor—you couldn’t walk in. So we looked at them. And that night, after dinner, we took a walk along the beach, and I started kind of weeping. Not weeping but sort of shaking. And I said, “Well, I’m really down to nothing now. I’m just down to, like, one line.”

Charcoal on paper, 17 1/2 x 23 inches


  1. Going off on a slight tangent here. Clark Coolidge (Guston's interlocutor here) is a fascinating poet. Sort of like the Gertrude Stein of Tender Buttons, or the John Lennon of the "Walrus" era. Using words largely for the sake of their sound. Coolidge is probably the most tolerable and most talented of that lot known as the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. I don't have any of his poems on hand, but I think you can find some by googling. Fascinating experiments. (But I can't live on fascinating experiments alone! I need some old-school stuff!)

    And so with the visual arts. What is it that Marianne Moore once said? "Sympathizing with an experiment, we need not venerate the result." (Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, p. 586)

  2. Ah, Heather, this touched a cord in me. I feel the great longing to have my life be NOTHING but, like, one line. And it would be THE one line. Ah, yes….

  3. My brother and sister are quite a bit younger than I. On long trips and waiting rooms I would end up "entertaining them." I created (or thought I had created) a game where we would take turns drawing on any paper we could find, with whatever was at hand, lines. More specifically a single line. The competition was to make something out of a single line that the others wouldn't guess until you were nearly done or best, they wouldn't guess at all. The big Ah Ha being when you said, "It's an elephant riding a subway through a doughnut" or something. If the person drawing lifted off the paper or stalled out at any point they lost by default, the single line having been broken.

    It was a different game than Guston's but sometimes there were tears, only they were of laughter.

  4. Thanks, people, I am just loving these lectures, interviews, insights of Philip Guston and may post on him again–glad to know Clark Coolidge is a poet in his own right, Dylan…I have been "down to one line" myself these past few weeks, and that is (essentially) a good thing…and good to know you dear folks are there…