Annie Davis Clyfford Still Paper

When one thinks of the Abstract Expressionism movement, the first artist to come to mind is Jackson Pollock. However, there are many great artists that stood beside him and helped shape the art industry during this decade. These artists broke the mold for what people commonly found to be “art” and introduced a completely new way in which to create and conceive art. Moving away from imagery in which the viewer could clearly denote a subject, these artists made pieces that eradicated such schools of thought and had no clear subject at all. One such artist is Clyfford Still, whose work proudly stands in its own museum in Denver, Colorado.

Still was born in North Dakota but found many homes across the United States. While living in a rural area, Still began to develop his own artistic style without much influence except the agricultural settings that surrounded him. His early works show scenes of farm labor and tired hands in a realistic fashion. This theme can be found in his later work, though displayed much differently.

As a young adult, Still found himself in New York City and San Francisco, where he started to form his signature style. He was baffled to see how much art was available to the public and taught at several universities to help expand the industry. Though he had a family and a job, his personal work came first. During the middle of his life he grew tired of the hustle and bustle of the cities and moved to Maryland with his family.

Throughout his life he created hundreds of paintings that captured different points of his career as an artist. He helped developed the Abstract Expressionist movement mostly when he was in New York City. His work can be described as Colorfield in that large areas of color dominate the canvas. He used thick layers of paint to create texture and depth, which is something that many artists did not focus on or think to do at this time. The sizes of some of his canvasses were massive as well, engulfing the viewer in a field of color and emotion. Denver is fortunate to have Still’s works on display, where the public can truly fathom the genius of his work.

In the 1930’s Still’s work changed from depictive farm scenes to more abstracted works. He mainly distorted the human figure to express fatigue and hardships by elongating the face and arms. The human body shows signs of famine as ribs and other bones protrude from the skin. The stretched face shows exhaustion after long and grueling working hours on the farm and the elongated arms exhibit muscle fatigue after a hard day’s work.

The piece above is an example of said craftsmanship. It features three male farmers and what appears to be a daughter at the end of a long day. The men have the iconic stretched, tired faces and show signs of extreme weariness. Behind them is farm equipment, something that is very familiar to Still. The painting extends its feelings into the viewer’s body and allows them to relate to the feelings of hard labor.

Later in the 1940’s, Still moves away from figures and creates even more abstracted works. The piece titled PH-313 is located somewhere between his early depictive works and his Colorfield pieces. It features solid colors surrounded by a black outline. Information next to the painting in the Clyfford Still Museum denotes that “human figures are detectable only in the upright black and white shapes. The vertical green form near the center suggests a ritualistic object, like a totem or staff. The red and black lines at the top are carryovers from machine handles”. The viewer can see that Still holds on to his affinity for agricultural life even in paintings that may take time to find said objects. Without the given information, one may not know the subject of his painting, which leads right into his Colorfield days.

In the later 1940’s and 1950’s Still takes his work further into what is known as the “New York School”. This field of art is also associated with artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and many others. This group began to create pieces that did not have a subject but had plenty of emotion and depth to them.

Still created the work above during this phase. This piece has plenty of texture from layers upon layers of paint and features vertical strips of color. Still said that verticality denoted life, as seen within plants, humans, and just about everything else. When these things die they fall horizontally. With that being said, Still uses themes of verticality in nearly all of his Colorfield works. The piece above has incredible hues of blue that will make the viewer’s eye travel throughout the entirety of the canvas. His Colorfield works encouraged the idea that every part of the canvas is just as important as every other. To further this idea, the size of Still’s canvasses increased to fully engulf the viewer in color.

The Clyfford Still Museum in Denver is a gift of great generosity.  Still’s work from all walks of his life are featured for the public to see and contemplate. One can see the progress he made from early, detailed pieces to later, game-changing works. He said, “I never wanted color to be color, texture to be texture, images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit”, as so can be seen in all of his work.

8 Responses

  1. I really appreciate the fact that you incorporated images into the paper as it really helps the reader to fully grasp what you are talking about. I think that the chronology towards the beginning of the paper is a bit confusing and understated, but I like the paintings you chose to describe his evolution as an artist with!

  2. I found the pictures in the paper really creative and was a good attachment to the paper. It was nice referring back to certain pieces and looking at the actual image instead of just describing it. I also liked how in depth you went about his life through out the paper. The back round information about him helped the flow of the paper and made it very interesting to read! I also really liked the quote at the end as well.

  3. I really enjoyed the fact you added photos to your paper. It allowed me to look back and not just remember what the painting looked like in my head. It felt like a blog review which made it more enjoyable to read.

  4. I really enjoyed that blue painting too. I like your noticing the vertical line and the idea that this represents life. The layers and the different hues of blue gave this so much energy.

  5. I enjoyed your paper and i think that it flowed very nicely. I also really like that you took time to fully describe the paintings and that you included actual pictures from the museum. It is very helpful to be able to see the pictures the you were discussing. Good paper!

  6. Annie,
    I really liked how you put pictures of the images in your paper. Although I took pictures at the museum as well, that is something that I didn’t think to do, and it was a great idea. It made the paper very visual, which I liked. I also liked how you talked about Still’s life in detail. This was something that I tried to do a bit too, but I think you achieved that better than me. Great job!

  7. Annie, i think you did an amazing job in this paper. You clearly know what you are talking about when it comes to art. Agreed with the others, i enjoyed how you added in the photography you took of his paintings and of the museum. I can tell you enjoyed writing this paper and you have a great sense of true artwork. You use a great use of words to broaden your artistic style.

  8. Thought you did a great job on the paper. The pictures you included went really well with how you were describing them and you conveyed your understanding very well! it is obvious you are confident in what you were talking about which makes whoever is reading it want to agree!

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