Encompassing around 100 paintings and drawings from across his 50-year career, the show begins with Guston’s early years as the child of Jewish immigrants who had escaped persecution in present-day Ukraine.
Largely self-taught, his influences included cartoons, European Old Masters, surrealism and Mexican muralism. Changing his name from Goldstein to Guston he moved to New York in 1936 where his work was influenced by the rise of Fascism in Europe and the undercurrent of racism in his own nation.
In the years following World War Two he became an influential figure in the New York School, alongside Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.
By the late 1960s, Guston was becoming disillusioned with abstraction focused on the everyday issues he saw around him.
In particular he produced a series of caricatures of hooded Ku Klux Klan figures taking part in everyday activities, as he began to question societal complicity in violence and racism.
The 1970s saw Guston living in Italy, where he created dozens of small paintings evoking the ruins and gardens of Rome. Several of these will be included in the Tate exhibition.
On his return to his studio in Upstate New York, he moved on to a series of disconcerting works featuring huge, outlandish eyes, vast piles of legs, abandoned shoes and decontextualised everyday objects.
The final segment of the display includes four pictures inspired by poets of the era as well as more signature images combing dream-like scenarios and nightmarish figures.
Philip Guston is at Tate Modern from 5 October 2023 to 25 February 2024.