philip guston tormentor
Guston’s first foray into teaching was as an artist-in-residence at the School of Art and Art History at the University of Iowa  from 1941 to 1945. He completed a mural there for the Social Security building in Washington, D.C. before turning to easel painting. He had his first solo exhibition in 1944. Afterwards, he was an artist-in-residence at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri until 1947. He continued with his teaching at New York University in New York City and at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Much later, from 1973 to 1978, he conducted a monthly graduate seminar at Boston University. 
As a result of the poor reception of his new figurative style, Guston isolated himself even more in Woodstock, far from the art world that had so utterly misunderstood his art. His contract with the Marlborough gallery was not renewed and after a short period without any dealer he joined the recently opened David McKee Gallery in New York City (he had met McKee at Marlborough). He remained faithful to that gallery until the end of his life.
Arguably, it had taken Guston longer to “get there,” but he brought all the more with him in the way of exposure to the alternatives to and tributaries of “mainstream” modernism. Guston’s own attraction to and struggles with philosophical systems—Marxist, Existentialist, and Formalist—constitute the agon at the heart of the paintings and drawings he made as an Abstract Expressionist. But as he proceeded, the example of John Cage, with his sage, smiling disregard for logical absolutes, unlocked the way for Guston by obviating contradictions and easing the burdens of dialectical thinking without entirely removing its structure and satisfactions.
For Guston, Beckmann was the “man to beat” just as Picasso had been for Pollock and de Kooning, although Guston also learned much from the Spanish master of the largely decimated School of Paris during and just after the German Occupation. Indeed many of Guston’s canvases of the mid- to late- 1940s amount to brilliant variations on Beckmann’s dense allegorical tableaux. Yet they also contain readily identifiable traces of, if not overt references to, other artists as disparate as de Chirico (whose inspiration would return in the 1960s and 1970s as one of the crucial predicates for Guston’s last great body of work) and Yasuo Kuniyoshi, as well as aspects of the Regionalism of Grant Wood. Some of these paintings—notably, If This Be Not I (1945)—resemble a restaging of Italian Metaphysical painting in the American heartland.
Leon Golub was a great American artist. End of story. That’s what popped into my head the moment the elevator doors at the Met Breuer slid open to reveal “Gigantomachy II” (1966), his enormous unstretched canvas crammed with nude men pummeling each other into pulp.
In other words, Golub was never one to luxuriate in paint, the effect of which would undercut the violence and inhumanity he relentlessly depicted. His ascetic application, to my mind, also suggests an American pragmatism at work, with its innate distrust of the sensual for its own sake. Golub’s reduction of his medium to films of pigment trapped in the tooth of the canvas is so pervasive that, in “Dead Bird II” from 1955, in oil and lacquer on board, the curdled knobs of paint poking off the surface come as a shock.
“Goddam it, Eva, you’re a goddam orphan,” he threw back at me, “and look at you, cohabiting with a pair of degenerates, and those imbecile oozings piled up in that dump, you’ve played me for a fool—”
“Sorry,” I said, “I’m just leaving, I can’t be late.”
Naked, bound, blindfolded, bleeding, alone or in groups, the prisoners in Mr. Botero’s paintings are enduring torment and humiliation. These now familiar scenes are based on the images and written accounts that emerged when pictures of abuse by American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to light in 2004. The notorious naked human pyramid is here, as are prisoners in women’s underwear, forced into sexual postures, threatened by guard dogs or tied to bars. Sometimes the boot or fist of a tormentor juts in.
Themes of power and excess are not entirely new to Mr. Botero’s seemingly sunny art. He has previously evoked military dictators and the violence of the Colombian drug wars. His evocations of obesity itself imply a sinister cluelessness.