By the middle of the 1960s the abstract expressionist artist Philip Guston was struggling in his art and in his life. He was drinking too much, smoking too much, he had just become a father and yet was having extramarital affairs. He moved to Florida and stopped painting and did nothing but draw for a couple of years.

But in 1968 he returned to painting, partly inspired by his childhood love of comic strips, keen to address the racial conflicts that were tearing apart America at the time. And so, in paintings like The Studio, he began to paint Klansmen as clownish figures. But that didn’t mean they weren't dangerous. as Robert Storr points out in his new book, Philip Guston: A Life Spent Painting, “stupidity is one of the predicates of ordinary evil.”

“I had no illusions that I could ever influence anybody politically,” Guston said of these paintings. “That would be silly. I mean, this is not the medium.”

He influenced painting, though. Guston died in 1980. In the years that followed contemporary artists and cartoonists discovered his work. His art is more highly regarded now, perhaps, than at any time during his life. More depressingly, it’s still relevant.

Philip Guston: A Life Spent Painting, by Robert Storr, is published by Laurence King.