The subject of the use of the color pink by Philip Guston and Gary Komarin (me), who studied with Guston as a graduate teaching fellow in Boston in the mid 1970’s, comes up fairly often at exhibitions worldwide and studio visits by museum curators, collectors, critics and friends.
Guston’s use of pink is very different from mine. It may stem in part from a certain ‘cartooniness’ in Guston’s work and mine, but that is where the similarities end. Guston uses pink in a darker and grimmer fashion, as the skin is peeled back to reveal the raw pink matter underneath where blood and pink membranes commingle under the outer skin. Historically, one thinks of such pivotal paintings such as ‘The Flaying of Marsyas’ by Titian in 1575, where a horned creature (Marsyas) is hung upside down and its outer skin sliced off as punishment for his sins.
Guston had what I would call a tragically comic and rather dark vision of human kind and the human condition. He had lost a brother in a car accident whose legs had to be amputated followed by the spread of gangrene. I too lost a brother to leukemia when he turned 25, very shortly before I met Guston, but my use of pink is more life embracing, while still cartoony at times, as I was an avid reader of comic books and avid chewer of pink bubble gum as a kid growing up in New York in the 1950’s. The pungent inks of comic books fresh off the press was very available to a kid with a dime in his pocket, this coupled with the pink bubble gum from a local candy store within walking distance, was all very appealing. I poured over those comic books, greatly pulled in not only to the graphics, but the pure physicality of the paper and especially the color and smell of the inks used at that time. I was spellbound!
For me, pink is about possibility, growth, play and forward motion. A pink piece of bubble gum to a kid playing stickball in the streets of New York in 1958 was a colorful and positive world all to itself. Color can mean many great things to many people. It is not one thing.