Christina Binstock Clyfford Still paper

Christina Binstock

Art history

Clyfford Still Museum


Abstract Expressionism

         Clyfford Still is now known to be one of the great leaders of abstract expressionism. He started is work in very dark times, after world war two and some during the depression. His Older work during the 1930’s is and abstraction of the human figure, which elongates facial structure and limbs into long vertical lines. Slowly but surely his work moves away from depicting figures and moves into the totally abstract. His paintings become one basic color with small spaces of differing colors. Later, he is said to have found some way of working with the empty space of the canvas leaving mush of it unpainted and little placed on the massive sized canvas. The museum itself is set up only to show Still’s work and beautifully mixes natural light with Indoor lighting illuminating each painting. Twisting around the building and pausing for a painting that catches attention feels like the movement of a Clyfford Still painting.

His early works is supposed to show life with the long vertical lines but in the painting viewers are able to see the struggle during and the hardship of the Great Depression. These painting are sad and mournful to me. These paintings mark a time of great struggle in the United States. I enjoy how the artist can get emotion evoked in the viewer but aesthetically I do not enjoy looking at them and it is because of how horrid the bodies and faces of the figures look, stretched and tortured. These painting where held in one of the few spaces that doesn’t let in any natural light which also give the paintings a darker image. Moving out of the 1930’s the images become more abstract and the figure becomes completely lost.

Clyfford Still moves away from depicting any kind of recognizable structure in his paintings, and moves too much larger canvases. He covers the canvas in a particular color and adds splashes of contrast. The paint shows great amounts of texture and life to the paintings. One of my personal favorite paintings is a large canvas with different shades of blue covering the whole canvas. There is a small line of orange that intersects the painting. To me it feels like and ocean surrounded by blue and suddenly another life comes into view bright and beautiful reminding you that you are not alone in the expanse of blue sea. Not all of Still’s paintings cover the canvas in color.

Clyfford Still moves to see that not all the canvas must be covered to show a complex and complete painting. The painting becomes more about movement. These painting show how Still would move throughout the painting and like following dance steps the viewer’s eye moves with the brush strokes of paint. A canvas with not color except black and the blank canvas behind was the most powerful for me. The paint fights with the blank spaces in the canvas and in some places looks as if it will totally take over but in other places the paint is losing to the canvas. For me it was like the love, hate relationship of the Tango each partner pushing against each other and pulling away but without each other the dance could not be complete. The museum sets the paintings up so that you must move and pause but controls your movements like choreography.

The museum was clearly made to show only Clyfford Still’s work. On the floor the museum hold your hand telling you what you need to know about the artist and then as you rise to the top of the steps it let your hand go and discover the work for yourself. The lighting is well controlled in each space letting in natural light or rejecting it. The building does not distract from the paintings but adds to them. The rooms filled with natural light add to the large size of the canvases giving showing off the huge amount of space they occupy. The museum will also rotate all the paintings this way every time a repeat visitor comes there will be a new painting and experience. The visitor will never do the same dance around the museum each time there will be a different places where they pause and move just like in all of Still’s paintings.

2 Responses

  1. I like how you discuss the layout of the museum as enforcing a sort of choreography that viewers must dance to. I also recognized this when in the space, there is a certain flow and also points you have to stop at, like the central room which feels like it has only one entrance. You have to walk around a wall to get to the next part which creates a suspense and surprise when turning the bend to an unseen work.

  2. I really liked how you described how the painting made you feel and how you interpreted it. I also liked how you discussed the layout of the museum as well. It made your paper more life like and easier for the reader to put themselves in your shoes at the museum.

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